Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What does PCC get from being accredited, anyway?

From Laura Massey, Director of Institutional Effectiveness

I don’t know about you, but I am not motivated by scare tactics. A sentence beginning “Without accreditation” followed by frightening statistics does nothing more than bring forth my inner twelve year-old who mentally shuts down while rebelling in full voice. Instead, here are a few facts.

Because PCC is an accredited college . . .

  • Almost 40% of our students are able to receive Federal Financial Aid dollars.

  • The credits earned by 5,100 students who transfer to another college or university (each year) are accepted at the transfer institution.

  • Last year’s 3,400+ graduates have credentials that are valued by other institutions, employers and licensing agencies.

  • Almost $14 million in recently awarded grants will provide improved student services, new equipment, expanded curriculum and so much more.

But wait. This is supposed to be an assessment blog. Why the emphasis on accreditation?

Because to maintain our accreditation, PCC is required to “hasten its progress in demonstrating, through regular and systematic assessment, that students who complete their programs have achieved the intended learning outcomes of degrees and certificates. Further, the college must begin to demonstrate, in a regular and systematic fashion, how the assessment of student learning leads to the improvement of teaching and learning” from the visiting team response on behalf of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, Spring 2010.

Scare tactic? Hardly - although it is certainly an important statement requiring action. Let’s first put this in context at PCC.

We care deeply that our students are learning. Period. It is our professional responsibility to understand what is working well and make improvements when needed. This is nothing new or different from what hundreds and hundreds of PCC faculty do in classrooms each day.
However, Northwest is also asking we demonstrate (in their language that means document) that we regularly and systematically assess graduates to have achieved the College defined outcomes. Furthermore, that we link how we used what is learned through assessment to make changes where needed to improve teaching and learning.

The faculty-driven Learning Assessment Council developed an assessment model which was initially implemented in 2009-10. As support staff to that work, I could see how institutional learning is both energized and realized through faculty creativity, insight and on-going commitment to excellence - the same qualities that support student learning.

As we ‘”hasten” our progress and fully implement the model this year, I believe we are on the path to fulfilling Northwest’s recommendation.


  1. I read Laura's post to uncover what it is that we have been tasked to do by our accrediting agency, but I learned about two different tasks: (i) assess that students have "achieved the intended learning outcomes of degrees and certificates... the college must begin to demonstrate, in a regular and systematic fashion, how the assessment of student learning leads to the improvement of teaching and learning," or (ii) assess that "graduates to have achieved the College defined outcomes."

    The hurry-up-and-do-it message I have been hearing on campus is related to assessing graduates' abilities around the college's Core Outcomes. This strikes me as a very different task than asking SACs to develop assessments to demonstrate that students have proficiencies in program outcomes or the outcomes of a particular course, and then using this assessment to improve instruction.

    What are we doing?

  2. Ann. Thanks for your careful reading!! There are two things I'd like to get out in response:

    (1) The Learning Assessment Council's work had been focused exclusively around the core outcomes until the NWCCU letter. Assessment of those outcomes through the SACs was the basis of our recommendation to the college, and it was what we implemented as a college 2009-2010. But as a result of NWCCU's letter, in 2010-11 (and going forward) program assessment activities depend on whether your SAC is Lower Division Collegiate (including DE) or Career and Technical. The CTE SACs are now asked to assess the outcomes of their degrees or major certificates (after mapping them to the core outcomes), while the LAC SACs will continue to focus on core outcomes.

    (2) Last year, I think a lot of people had the idea that the point of assessment was to show they were doing good work. It was taken as a kind of justification process -- and since many of us were good students before we became good teachers, we wanted to get an A+ as a result of our assessment of ourselves! But assessment at the program level is intended to be driver of continual program improvement. If you never find anything working less than perfectly, there is never any way to improve! So, odd as it sounds, a good assessment plan is one that helps distinguish where your program is doing just fine AND where your program could do better. In the assessment lingo: program assessment is intended to be formative (feedback for improvement) and not just summative (like the grades you give students at the end of the term.)

    As the Indigo Girls say: Thanks for hearing it!