Accreditation is crucial to success

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Accreditation is a term that students at UW Oshkosh will almost certainly come across during the span of their college career. While the word itself may be familiar, many at UWO may not know what accreditation is and what it means for them. The accreditation process is among the most important safeguards to student learning. It ensures that those at UWO are held to appropriate academic standards while also protecting their investment in an education. It’s important for students to recognize the importance of accreditation and how the UW system budget cuts could potentially affect it in the future. There are several distinctions when it comes to accreditation. As a whole, the University is accredited by a body called the Higher Learning Commission. The HLC holds UW Oshkosh to specific criteria in order to make sure it complies with federal standards for higher education. There are five different areas in which the University must demonstrate its worth both to the public and its students. Associate Vice Chancellor Carleen Vande Zande oversees curricular affairs and student academic achievement at UWO. An HLC reviewer herself, Vande Zande said although she thinks the process of accreditation is valuable in itself, it is particularly important to students in specialized fields. “I think that students as consumers look at the overall institutional accreditation to make sure that when they look for a job, they can show they’re a graduate of an accredited institution,” Vande Zande said. “If a nursing student wants a license, they need to go to an accredited institution and then sit for that licensing exam.” Perhaps the most important of the HLC criteria is teaching and learning. Reviewers from the HLC make sure students have the necessary resources and support to receive a quality education.The reviewers examine instructors both on paper and in the classroom directly. They make sure faculty members are not only qualified to teach the classes they do, but also that they are teaching them effectively. This criteria also critiques the resources available to students on campus. Reviewers scrutinize things ranging from technological infrastructure and athletic facilities on campus to more personal resources like tutoring and financial aid advising. Vande Zande also pointed to importance of the criteria involving ethical and responsible conduct. She said in the past there have been instances in which educational institutions have defrauded students by offering classes that don’t adhere to promised quality standards. UWO has never had a problem with this criteria and has always been reaccredited. “UW Oshkosh is part of a state system that has certain levels of quality indicators built in there that are a part of the board of regents policy that would help us meet federal requirements,” Vande Zande said. UWO was reaccredited by the HLC in 2007 and will not be up for review again until 2017. Besides overall University-wide accreditation, several programs within the University have external accreditation as well. These reviews are performed by separate accrediting bodies that specialize in evaluating certain curriculums and departments. For example the journalism department at UWO is independently accredited by the Accreditation Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Chair of the journalism department, Tim Gleason said the ACEJMC accreditation not only increases the value of a UWO journalism degree but also helps the department request additional resources from the University. “For a program, accreditation can be helpful because it’s having national experts say ‘These things are valuable to your department,’” Gleason said. “That is a lot more effective than me just going in there and asking for more resources.” Although he fully expects to be reaccredited by the ACEJMC for this term, Gleason said he is not so sure about the future because of budget limitations that may affect staffing and resources. “I think they’ll see where we’re at and what we’re trying to do, and we’ll be fully accredited,” Gleason said. “But if we don’t have the support in these coming years because of the budget situations we’ve been in, I think that’s a riskier time than now.” Gleason said there is a fear among some at UWO that Wisconsin is becoming unattractive to prospective faculty because of issues with the budget, shared governance and tenure. “I’ve been quizzed on the status of higher education in Wisconsin at conferences by peers across the country and the accreditation site team,” Gleason said. The budget cuts will not likely jeopardize University wide accreditation by the HLC, but independent accreditations may be at risk if they are unable to acquire necessary resources. Vande Zande said programs with greater needs are positioned differently in the budget discussion. “I’m confident the University will preserve all of its accreditations at this point,” Vande Zande said. “There would have to be a very compelling argument to stop a program.” With a shaky future for UWO’s budget, one can only hope subsequent program accreditations will not be affected by the irresponsible financial decisions made by the Walker administration in Madison. If they are, students at UWO could see fewer opportunities and less value in their degree.