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February 29, 2024 | Accreditation and self study

Unpacking the New WASC Standards for Evidence-Based Improvement

Disjointed and hard-to-access data is one of the biggest challenges facing higher ed institutions today. Or is it an opportunity? Acknowledging your obstacles to centralize and access data to drive data-informed decisions is the first step toward overcoming this barrier and accelerating progress toward student and institutional improvement. Platforms and operational processes that enable stakeholders to capture and use supporting evidence to inform institutional planning can help streamline accreditation efforts while providing data that can be used in day to day actions that impact student learning and success. 

Why Did WASC Update Their Accreditation Standards?

The Western Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) released its updated accreditation standards to be reflective of the changing environment of higher education and the effectiveness of its member institutions in meeting student success goals. These changes were launched in 2023, and each prompt of the self study calls for institutional stakeholders to reflect on what makes their institution distinctive, how well the institution provides transparency of its efforts to serve and grow students through its learning experiences, and rigor among these learning spaces. The key ingredient to this self study is that it is one focused on reflection, and the reflections are iterative — just as the standards build upon one another throughout the narratives within the self study. 

What Are the Expectations for Member Institutions of WASC?

Member institutions of WASC are expected to design evidence-based narratives that provide a commitment to the standard both now and in the future — from the first reflection on mission to its last standard on quality assurance and improvement The focus is on effectiveness of using the evidence to address surfaced issues while they are conducting this review. 


A colored wheel showing the Five Phases of Effective Strategic Planning. In order: contextualization & information gathering, clarification and goal orientation, prioritization and communication, implementation and evaluation, and reporting and (re)iteration.

Source: Keith, CJ. Hundley, S.P. Process Considerations for Strategic Planning: Phase #5, Reporting and (Re)Iteration. Assessment Update. 2023.


Something distinctive about these standards is that they call for institutions to reflect on their planning efforts in 3 out of the 4 standards. Planning is entrenched in mission reflection, resource planning including financial, physical, technological and informational, and quality assurance and improvement processes. These standards call for resource planning and realistic budgeting, allocation of resources consistent with strategic planning objectives, and envisioning the future through activities that inform institutional planning and systematic review of educational effectiveness. The comprehensive quality assurance process includes both academic and non-academic areas and documents the use of results to improve overall institutional operations. 


Source: Ball State University.


Stay Ready for Accreditation and Meet WASC Standards

WSCUC Institutions are called to restructure at an unprecedented pace to achieve results required for continued student success and institutional sustainability. There is a direct connection between strategic integrated planning and accreditation review that can drive meaningful and efficient analysis. Planning with this in mind provides a catalyst for quality and continuous improvement for change — which is exactly what the standards are calling for and what reviewers want to see when they assess your self study and come to campus. 

Getting started on your self study starts today no matter where you are in the review cycle. This crosswalk between the 2023 standards and the HelioCampus platform is a good starting point to design an efficient and transparent process for collecting, using and documenting improvement with data. It is through this process that your institution can reflect, reiterate and redirect its course toward meeting the needs of learners in today’s modern approach to higher education. 


Illustration of a person sitting at a computer and looking at an abstract map. Text reads: "Learn how HelioCampus support your self-study process. Access our WSCUC Crosswalk".


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