Pitzer College
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About the Participant

Pitzer's Accreditation Process
A Commitment to Excellence

Every 10 years, Pitzer College comes up for accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Its goal is to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of an institution’s educational mission and capacity to provide excellence in student learning experiences.

Accreditation is a voluntary and non-governmental process that “aids institutions in developing and sustaining effective educational programs and assures the educational community, the general public, and other organizations that an accredited institution has met high standards of quality and effectiveness” (www.wascsenior.org/wasc/).
New schools and colleges must meet a rigorous set of criteria focused on student learning objectives, financial resources and organizational structures to support the educational goals, and a commitment to assessing educational outcomes.

For colleges already accredited, such as Pitzer, the process is a more proactive one designed by the institution under review. WASC reviews and validates the accreditation plan by focusing on two core commitments: Commitment to Institutional Capacity and Commitment to Educational Effectiveness. The institution should provide detailed evidence that it’s an effective learning-centered campus and has the capacity to evaluate and sustain its educational programs.

The accreditation process occurs in three stages during a four-year span: (1) the Institutional Proposal, (2) the Capacity and Preparatory Review, and (3) the Educational Effectiveness Review. The proposal is the first step that Pitzer has just completed. It is a 15-page research design, a formal plan of action, and a framework for addressing the entire multi-stage accreditation review process. In this proposal,
we select three key themes the College would like to study during the next few years. With input from students, faculty and staff, Pitzer is centering its review on three areas:

(1) Linking the Academic with Residential Life: As a residential liberal arts institution, the centerpiece of Pitzer College’s academic experience is integrating the physical elements of our campus with the programmatic dimensions of our unique educational objectives. We will investigate the Residential Life and Learning Project, and focus on the relationship between the new environmentally sensitive residence halls and the impact on student learning, retention, satisfaction with Pitzer, environmental awareness, community values and diversity.

(2) Comprehensive Reviews of Academic Programs: Pitzer proposes to create an ongoing assessment of this newly instituted process of periodic assessment by external reviewers of field groups and programs. The goal is to understand how well our programs are providing quality learning experiences for our students. We will evaluate how effective these external reviews are, how well field groups respond to them, and what impact they have had on the field groups and programs. It’s an assessment of our assessment procedures!

(3) Connecting the Global and the Local: For almost two decades, the College has required that Pitzer students acquire a somewhat vaguely specified level of international and intercultural understanding. Our intention is to clarify and further develop the college’s approach to achieving international and intercultural understanding informed by an increased connection between global processes and local communities. This part of our WASC evaluation will involve evaluating programs that enhance students’ opportunities to engage in issues emerging from global and local connections and to act on those issues in meaningful ways.

Once our proposal is accepted by WASC this summer, we must then begin designing the evaluations, create a “culture of evidence” that seeks indicators supporting the specific outcomes we expect from these three areas, and provide visiting teams of WASC evaluators sufficient information to demonstrate our capacity to carry out these educational activities at a high level of quality.

In the fall of 2008, we complete the second phase of the accreditation process: the Capacity and Preparatory Review, a report presented to a visiting team of evaluators that documents the resources, fiscal stability, structures, processes, and policies of the institution that exist to carry out the institution’s educational objectives as stated in the three themes of the Institutional Proposal. It assesses the institution’s preparedness to undertake the Educational Effectiveness Review that is scheduled 12 to 18 months later, possibly in the spring of 2010.

This third phase, the Educational Effectiveness Review, is a report that must demonstrate sustained engagement by the College on the extent to which the institution fulfills the educational objectives as outlined in the original Institutional Proposal’s three themes. It should present clear evidence of the collection, review, and use of data that assure the delivery of programs and learner accomplishments. A site visit by a team of evaluators will occur at this point and a recommendation will then be made to WASC for a 10 year reaccreditation.

To read the WASC Institutional Proposal and monitor the progress of the other phases, visit the College’s Institutional Research Web page, www.pitzer.edu/offices/institutional_research/, periodically beginning in the fall.

—Peter Nardi, professor of sociology and
director of institutional research