Mythbusters: Addressing Accreditation "Urban Legends"

Chair, Accreditation and SLO Committee

During the Fall Plenary and at the recently held Accreditation Institute, members of the Accreditation and SLO Committee attempted to address accreditation stories that have thrived like urban legends across the state with kernels of truth garnished with large doses of fiction. Much of the concern clearly comes from the rising number of colleges receiving sanctions, including two colleges now facing "show cause" as a result of the January 2009 commission decisions, placing them one step from termination of accreditation. Some of the concern also arises from mixed and conflicting messages that colleges and their individual members from college communities receive or believe they have received either through training by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) or by word of mouth. This article is an attempt to address these stories, hoping to bust the myths.

Mythbuster #1: I heard that we were given more time to reach the required expectations on the SLO rubric provided by ACCJC. If that is true, what is the new deadline?

There are four levels to the SLO rubric: awareness, developmental, proficient, and sustainable and continuous, with the last being the highest level. In September 2008, the commission announced in a letter to all member institutions that it expects colleges to be at the proficient level (third level on the rubric) in 2012, with the expectation that they would thereafter have on-going and sustainable processes for their SLOs and assessment (fourth level).

Mythbuster #2: I heard that there was a requirement that we correct deficiencies within two years after the recommendation. Is this true?

It is true. This is actually a requirement from the federal government; deficiencies must be corrected within two years. But depending on the infraction and the commission's timeline, the time could be even shorter than two years. The bottom line is, if you are preparing a self study and see a recommendation in a past letter from the commission, you need to be sure your institution has addressed it and can show evidence of improvement. Unlike the old days, you will not see colleges with the same recommendation report after report after report.

Mythbuster #3: I heard at an ACCJC team training meeting that there is a specific number of SLOs required for every course.

When in doubt, one should always go to the Accreditation Standards. Nowhere in the Standards is a specific number given. Yet one can imagine that a five-unit course meeting nine hours a week would have more SLOs than a three-unit course that meets three hours per week. Some one-unit courses could conceivably have a single SLO. No one but the local college should determine any number because the SLOs are based on the pedagogy and the Course Outline of Record requirements.

Mythbuster #4: I was at a meeting where an ACCJC commissioner stated that the SLOs HAD to be in the Course Outline of Record. Is this true?

ACCJC maintains that as an accrediting agency it is not mandated to follow California's Educational Code or Title 5 requirements. Moreover, ACCJC accredits institutions that fall outside of California, including Hawaii and Micronesia. The official Course Outline of Record is a California practice. Thus, it makes no sense that ACCJC would require something based upon one state's practice. Moreover, the Standards do not mention that SLOs need to be in a Course Outline of Record. The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges has spoken with ACCJC and believes that SLOs belong in a document that is easily accessible and public (which is the language used in the Standard). The location of this document and the SLOs may be the syllabus, the Course Outline of Record, Addenda to the Course Outline of Record, the college website, or the college catalog, wherever the individual college decides to place them and wherever students can find what is expected of them.

Mythbuster #5: Is it true that the SLOs have to be on every syllabus?

The actual language in Standard II.A.6 reads "In every class section students receive a course syllabus that specifies learning objectives [emphasis added] consistent with those in the institution's officially approved course outline." In California, the official Course Outline of Record has explicit course objectives, which all sections of a given course need to meet at the college. This language has been confusing and the senate has asked the commission to clarify what it expects.

Mythbuster #6: I've heard that schools are being put on warning or probation because of SLOs. What is the main reason schools go on warning or probation? Is it just dependent on the visiting team?

No college that is currently facing sanction does so because of SLOs. Colleges may receive recommendations regarding SLOs and assessment, but they are not the reasons for a college to go on warning, probation, or now, "show cause." Rather, the main reason colleges face sanction is that they have not addressed past recommendations. These recommendations can be 6, 12, or even 18 years old and still have never been seriously addressed by the college. There are three major reasons institutions face warning or probation. The first two have to do with key areas of institutional effectiveness, program review (colleges are currently expected to be at the highest level on the ACCJC rubric) and planning (again, colleges should be at the highest level), while the third deals with governance issues.

There are plenty of other accreditation "myths" floating around. The Academic Senate has asked the commission to clarify these misunderstandings and you can always contact the commission directly. Serving on a visiting team and sticking to the Standards are two ways to help clarify these misunderstandings.