To better meet its goals of promoting institutional engagement with issues of educational effectiveness, student learning, and a culture of evidence that informs institutional decision making, WASC established a new framework for accreditation in 2001. The defining feature of this new framework is its two “core commitments” to institutional capacity and educational effectiveness and its accompanying multiple-stage review cycle. The rationale behind this split, in which the capacity review focuses on institutional policies, structures, and resources and the educational effectiveness review focuses on the institution’s educational vision and its organization for and evidence of student learning, is to spotlight the issue of educational effectiveness and student learning so that institutions do not revert to the old “compliance model” of accreditation. In this way, the WASC review process encourages institutions to become learning organizations.
Three stages make up the new WASC reaccreditation process:
- The Institutional Proposal
- The Capacity and Preparatory Review
- The Educational Effectiveness Review
During the Institutional Proposal stage, the first step in the process, institutions conduct a self-study that focuses on issues germane to their particular missions with the goal of developing “researchable questions” that guide the entire review process. The proposal affords institutions the opportunity to affirm their values, vision, and mission, engage the campus community in articulating institutional priorities, and enhance the capacity to make informed decisions about improvement.
The purpose of the Capacity and Preparatory Review is to demonstrate the institution’s commitment to institutional capacity by asking, does the campus function with the capacity to fulfill its educational purposes? “Institutional capacity” involves resource, structure, and process issues from a holistic perspective and puts the following questions at center: Where are we now? Where do we need to go? How will we get there?
The purpose of the Educational Effectiveness Review is to invite sustained engagement by the institution on the extent to which it fulfills its educational objectives. The self-study reviews institutional systems to determine whether they are effectively linked to evidence of student learning and are consistent with the university's educational goals and academic standards. This stage puts the following questions at center: How well are our systems working? Is what we accomplish good enough? What do we need to do to improve?
Successful completion of these stages leads to reaffirmation of accreditation, which certifies to the educational community and to the general public that all of USD’s degree programs and educational activities meet or exceed established standards, and that the campus is progressing toward its stated goals.