Western Governors' University: A Crisis for Accreditation

October
1998
Mark Snowhite, Area D

Western Governors' University (WGU), like LA smog on a hot August afternoon, is spreading across the nation's post-secondary educational horizon. Embracing the latest technologies for distance education, WGU was designed to bring quality post-secondary programs via distance education modes to the folks in Utah, Colorado, and other states where mountainous terrain and long distances between college campuses make traveling to schools difficult. Other cuttingedge innovations include certificate and degree programs (both associates and baccalaureate) based on demonstrated competencies instead of traditional coursework. The goals of WGU are certainly worthwhile and should be pursued. But there are also serious quality problems with this undertaking as it has been conceived.

WGU does not plan on having its own faculty. The courses it markets will come from a variety of sources, including businesses and possibly unaccredited institutions. And WGU does not plan on certifying that these courses are of any particular value in that it will not guarantee that passing a sequence of these courses will earn the student a certificate or degree. Competency testing will still be required. Furthermore, the instruments used to determine the competencies will not be designed or undergo review by a core of faculty resident to the institution, but probably by those hired as consultants. Student services, if available at all, will also be contracted out. In short, this institution will offer no classes of its own, have no fulltime faculty, and provide no programs designed by a core of fulltime faculty.

These facts alone should clearly render WGU ineligible for accreditation in our region. After all, ACCJC's eligibility requirement #12 stipulates that an institution have "a substantial core of qualified faculty with full-time responsibility to the institution and sufficient in size and experience to support all of the institution's educational programs." Also, a number of ACCJC's accreditation standards refer to the participation of "qualified" faculty in program planning and review and other activities relating to curriculum and student support and success (See especially Standards 4, A5: 4, D1; 4, D2; 4, D5; 7, A1; 3. B1; 9, A5; 10, B6-8. The ACCJC standards can be accessed online at www.wascweb.org/ACCJC/standard.htm).

But ACCJC has endorsed seriously weakened standards developed by the Inter-Regional Accrediting Committee (IRAC), an agency composed of accrediting commissions from each of the regions in the country. These standards do not require faculty participation in many of the functions that we recognize as responsibilities of the faculty. For example, under Standard 6: Academic Leadership-Program design, Instruction and Quality Assurance, we find the following standard: "The institution has sufficient capacity through its own personnel and processes and through its oversight of personnel and processes of providers with whom the institution contracts to fulfill its obligation for effective program design, instruction and quality assurance." Instead of faculty being designated for functions under this standard, academic leadership appears.

For ACCJC to endorse standards that seriously diminish faculty participation in the areas where it seems essential is hard to understand. Perhaps there is political pressure for this commission to join with those from other regions (All of the others are four-year college accrediting commissions.) After all, presently seventeen states and Guam have anted up $100,000 each to be players at the WGU table, and the governors of these states have a certain amount of leverage with the federal government, which might support unfriendly reforms of the current accreditation system. These governors are aware that in order for their constituents to receive federal financial aid when attending WGU and for the certificates and diplomas awarded by this institution to be of value, WGU must be accredited by a recognized, government approved accrediting agency. Since WGU will operate wherever the Internet reaches, no accrediting agency in a single region of the country can provide a blanket accredited status. Thus was born the Inter-Regional Accrediting Committee (IRAC), whose function it has been to develop eligibility requirements and standards for accreditation for this particular institution and whose weakened standards ACCJC has endorsed.

The Academic Senate has taken a position opposing the participation of ACCJC in this association because doing so would weaken eligibility requirements and standards in order to allow WGU to apply for and gain accredited status (S 2.03 & 2.05). The Senate has also passed a resolution to seek the cooperation of the faculty senates of the other post-secondary segments in the State to take a similar stand against ACCJC participation in the accrediting of WGU (S 2.05).

In June, at its semi-annual board meeting, the ACCJC announced that the eligibility requirements and accreditation standards for WGU have been completed. ACCJC's participation in IRAC and the content of the standards themselves, were not issues for debate at that board meeting, though opposition from some faculty who sit on the board has been reported.

We continue to urge the ACCJC to re-examine its support of IRAC's present standards and withdraw from participation in accrediting WGU on the grounds that the standards in question seriously will diminish or eliminate faculty participation in academic matters, where faculty leadership is essential.

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.