Have a question about SSU’s accreditation process? Check out these quick informational links below to get your questions answered. For any more questions, feel free to contact Academic Programs.
What is accreditation?
Accreditation is one way that universities ensure quality. An educational institution in the United States is not mandated to seek accreditation; however, most do because of the associated benefits (e.g., the ability to apply for federal grants). At the institutional level, SSU is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), often referred to as “WASC” when speaking. WSCUC conducts cyclical reviews of colleges and universities to ensure institutional accountability and compliance with federal regulations, as well as to provide support for institutional improvement. The accreditation process aids our campus in developing and sustaining effective educational programs and assures the educational community, the general public, and other organizations that we have met high standards of quality and effectiveness.
How does the accreditation process work?
Accreditation is about meaningful, inquiry-based self-assessment that conveys our unique story and describes plans for the future based on the institution’s mission and strategic goals. As part of the accreditation activities, SSU completes a self-study process where we demonstrate our ongoing commitment to the continuous improvement of our programs—both curricular and co-curricular. The method for doing this is the institutional report. SSU’s most recent Institutional Report, a 75-page narrative plus appendices (which provide the data and evidence that back up the narrative), was submitted to WSCUC on February 21, 2017. It comprised nine components, or chapters, in which we demonstrated that our campus meets the four WSCUC Standards. The performance expectations that comprise those Standards are specified by 39 Criteria for Review. It was the job of the SSU Accreditation Steering Committee to coordinate gathering the data from the University community to demonstrate how SSU met these expectations.
As part of the accreditation process, WSCUC appointed a team of professionals from member organizations that conducted an evaluation of SSU’s self-study. After submitting the Institutional Report and Appendices, SSU participated in an offsite meeting with the WSCUC Team, held on May 2, 2017. The WSCUC Team provided feedback on specific information they wanted for clarification, called Lines of Inquiry, which was the focus of their visit to the campus over October 24-26, 2017. Upon completion of the site visit, the WSCUC Team prepared a report containing their findings which was submitted to the WSCUC Commissioners for consideration in reaffirming SSU’s accreditation status. Sonoma State University's accreditation was renewed on February 16, 2018. The next reaffirmation review is scheduled for Spring 2025 with an accreditation visit in Fall 2025.
Who participates in the re-accreditation process on campus?
Leadership for our re-accreditation efforts comes from the Accreditation Steering Committee, but because accreditation covers the entire institution, everyone within the university plays a pivotal role. Dr. Karen Moranski, Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, the Accreditation Liaison Officer (ALO), communicates with WSCUC on behalf of the campus.
The Accreditation Steering Committee is charged with establishing a basic timeline and the preparatory activities that helps the campus collect preliminary data used to prepare the institutional report. A Special Visit Working Group oversaw the compilation of the Special Visit Report submitted on December 22, 2020. Members of the Accreditation Steering Committee and working groups attend WSCUC trainings, workshops, WSCUC Academic Resource Conferences, and webinars. At these meetings, they learn about the accreditation process, share the accomplishments of SSU, and learn about the best practices from other institutions.
What is the timeline for the ongoing WSCUC review processes?
- March 4-5, 2021: Special Visit to address WSCUC recommendations following 2017 review
- May 1, 2022: Mid-Cycle Review
- Spring 2025: Offsite Review
- Fall 2025: Accreditation Visit
What are the WSCUC Standards and "Criteria for Review"?
Accreditation confirms our excellence and our commitment to continuous improvement, and the accreditation process requires us to demonstrate that we are taking real steps to fulfill our mission, are measuring the effectiveness of those steps, and are using the results of those measurements to improve what we do. Standards of Accreditation are the principles used as a basis for judgment in accreditation reviews, and they constitute the basic standards against which the university is measured in evaluating its acceptance of the core commitments. They are used to guide institutions in assessing institutional performance and to identify areas needing improvement. Each standard is expanded by a number of Criteria for Review. Criteria for Review are more specific than the four Standards of Accreditation and are intended to define and explain the Standards. Substantial compliance with both the Standards and Criteria for Review is required by state and federal laws for accreditation.
What are the Core Competencies and how do they relate to student learning outcomes assessment?
Institutions report on graduating students’ levels of performance in five core competencies common to all degrees: written and oral communication, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and information literacy. We must demonstrate that our graduates have developed these core competencies at a level of achievement appropriate to their degree, and that our institution is effective at achieving these learning goals as well as meeting specific goals relevant to different disciplines. This is achieved by undertaking periodic program review, assessment of student learning, and other forms of evaluation. The outcomes of the process help us improve institutional structures and services, as well as curricula, pedagogy, and learning outcomes. We must also make this information available publicly and show how assessment results inform planning. Assessment is an important aspect of purposeful planning because it help guide the kinds of action needed for improvement.
What does WSCUC mean by "Meaning, Quality and Integrity of the Degree"?
Because SSU is an accredited institution, students, faculty, administrators, parents, legislators, and others have the assurance of outside experts that our academic offerings are exemplary and that the university is well managed and fiscally sound. Accreditation provides evidence that our programs are relevant and that the university has been and will continue to hold itself accountable to the needs of its students, the community, potential employers, legislators, California taxpayers, and the standards set by higher education.
The importance that WSCUC attributes to quality assurance is emphasized by the fact that it is now required for institutions to devote an entire chapter in the Institutional Report to illuminating how the meaning, quality, and integrity of every degree conferred enhances students’ lives and prepares them for their future roles in society. What WSCUC is seeking is something more than facts, however; they want the institution to illustrate how these elements are woven together into the fabric that makes up the student’s whole educational experience. More on this new element of the Institutional Self-Study can be found here.
Where can I find Sonoma State's accreditation documents?
WSCUC requires that each campus maintain a website that is used to broadcast accreditation-related information to the campus and community for the purpose of being transparent; to archive meeting minutes, self-study, findings, and responses (both current and historical); to showcase data on core competencies; and generally to function as a permanent resource for accreditation information. This site serves as the home for information regarding the accreditation process, as well as a repository for the documents that SSU submits to WSCUC and the accreditation-related documents received from WSCUC.
How can I become involved in accreditation at our campus?
SSU's accreditation process is a multi-stage, longitudinal process that requires broad campus involvement. The accreditation process, which focuses on continual improvement in the quality of our institution, requires various levels of engagement and participation from different departments and divisions of the University at each stage, from initial planning through the on-site visit. If you are interested in supporting accreditation activities at SSU, please contact Academic Programs.