New report card in the works for Berkeley
Accreditation review spurs dialogue on undergraduate education

By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs

24 October 2002 | Berkeley will mark a milestone next week, when a small team of nationally known educators visits Oct. 30 and 31 as part of a once-a-decade institutional accreditation review.

The visit is the culmination of more than a year of institutional self-reflection, which the accreditation process — recently redesigned by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) — is intended to stimulate. Under the new protocol, each campus is invited to identify key institutional issues, and to organize its research and reporting around ways to move forward in those areas.

Berkeley has chosen to use the process as a context for holding an important campuswide conversation on how well it is serving its largest student constituency, undergraduates, and what more can be done to improve their educational experience. Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Christina Maslach, who heads the effort, has appointed working groups made up of faculty, students, and staff to tackle what she calls “some of the most pressing challenges we face as a large public research university committed to delivering a quality education to our students.”

Their findings will be incorporated into the campus’s report to the regional accrediting body, in time for WASC’s final site visit in fall 2003. But the dialogue will serve the campus “well beyond the accreditation,” Maslach notes. “What we’re doing will not just sit on a shelf. It will help shape the campus’s undergraduate education agenda.”

A new model
In the past, a thick handbook of standards and requirements was the touchstone for the accreditation process. “You’d go down the list of rules and state how you were adhering to the standards and substandards,” recalls campus accreditation liaison officer Charles Upshaw. “It was somewhat irrelevant to the life of the institution, its pressing needs and priorities.”

Over the past decade, WASC overhauled its accreditation model in favor of something more meaningful to campuses, spending $2 million in grant funding to design and implement new guidelines. “We still have to show how we’re meeting standards,” Upshaw says. “But the context is different. The new process allows us to demonstrate satisfaction of the standards through deep engagement of the institution’s hot-button issues.”

As a follow-up to its 1990 report card from WASC, which recommended improvements to undergraduate education, Berkeley proposed to organize its report around three key topics: enhancing academic engagement at a large research institution, re-thinking the delivery of education, and improving undergraduate program review.

Faculty are central to the discussion. Professor of Education Mark Wilson chaired the working group responsible for looking at institutional capacity. Its findings, condensed into a 35-page Prepartory Review Report, plus supporting data, are available online to WASC reviewers and the public. (See the accreditation website,

Wilson calls the effort “hard work,” but fruitful and important. “As a faculty member, I’m very much involved in my own students and my own teaching,” he says. “This prompted me to look across the campus, and some it of it was very new to me.“

National context
The campus performance evaluation under the new WASC process takes place at a time of national debate about the role of accreditation in higher education. One aspect of the conversation is increasing attention on student outcomes, or achievement levels — with an emphasis, both in Sacramento and Washington, on standardized testing of K-12 students as a means to demonstrate schools’ effectiveness.

Professor Wilson, whose area of expertise is measurement and testing, notes that a version of this standardization movement “is drifting into university-level education” as well. “It’s a big debate that’s probably going to find its way from K-12 to at least the first two years of undergraduate education,” he predicts, adding that the flexibility of WASC’s new accreditation model challenges the trend toward standardization.

This year, too, the Enron and other corporate scandals have made “accountability” a buzzword that has permeated Congress, notes Diane Rogers of the Washington D.C.-based Council for Higher Educational Accreditation. “Accountability is foremost in their minds, politically, across many different arenas,” she says, and is likely to figure in debate over the Higher Education Act, which expires next year.

Because Berkeley is one of the first universities to test-fly the new accreditation process, its approach — including its discussion of how to appropriately assess learning outcomes in a large research university — is of keen interest to many beyond the campus. Among them are David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, who will chair the two accreditation visits to campus, and Ralph Wolff, executive director of WASC.

Berkeley’s thoughtful participation in the review process, and the way it has organized its report, “could well stand out as useful to other institutions,” Wolff says. “Berkeley has an real opportunity to help us learn about learning itself. It knows how to do good, quality research. We hope it will turn that research capacity on its own educational processes.”

Berkeley’s accreditation website
As part of the new approach to accreditation developed by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the Berkeley campus has created a web-based presentation of its materials. On the UC Berkeley Accreditation website (eduation.berkeley. edu/accreditation), WASC reviewers, the campus community, and the public can view basic documents, as well as a richer array of supporting evidence and data than it was possible to present prior to the advent of the web. This includes access to powerful data warehouses created in recent years by the Office of Planning & Analysis.

As Chancellor Berdahl wrote in a recent memo to faculty, staff, and students, the campus community is encouraged to visit the website, and to offer feedback. The e-mail address for comments is

“We have been receiving very thoughtful and pertinent input,” says Cynthia Schrager, a principal analyst in the office of Vice Provost Christina Maslach. “The response has been great, because it allows us to get a very direct, immediate sense of what is important to people.” Comments are being forwarded to the working groups involved in the final phase of the self-study process, she says.

The website includes a copy of the Preparatory Review Report — a series of reflective essays on undergraduate admissions, campus diversity, support for student learning, teaching effectiveness, delivery of education, educational uses of technology, institutional uses of data, and program review. Each essay contains links to supporting documents and data. A complete listing of these elements is available in appendix 4, via a link from the home page. More documents and data links will be added to the site over the coming year, as working groups complete their reports.


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