NDSU was selected by the Higher Learning Commission as one of 22 colleges and universities in the North Central region to test a new accreditation model that evaluates what a school is doing to improve student learning.
The model uses learning outcome benchmarks from the "Degree Qualification Profile." To help administrators, faculty and staff understand the model and how to use it; the profile's co-author Paul Gaston will visit NDSU on Thursday, Jan. 12. He will present a campus pedagogical luncheon titled, "Academically Adroit: Strengthening Student Learning Through Greater Intentionality," from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Memorial Union Great Room. All faculty, staff and graduate students are welcome to attend.
"The new model is about taking something we're doing on campus, emphasizing student learning and seeing how we can improve the process," said Larry Peterson, professor of history, philosophy and religious studies, who also is a member of the Core Undergraduate Learning Experience committee. "This model says, ‘let's be thoughtful about what will help us do our most important work - student learning - and do it better.'" The current accreditation process, which occurs every 10 years, essentially approves a college's or university's past performance rather than considering quality improvement for the future.
The Higher Learning Commission invited a variety of schools - small, large and community colleges - to test the "Degree Qualifications Profile." The schools have an accreditation date in either 2015 or 2016 and an unblemished accreditation record. Together, the schools are called Cohort Three of the Pioneer Institutions of the Pathways Demonstration project.
"It's definitely an honor to be selected," Peterson said. "It means we're recognized as a school that's done exceptionally well in previous accreditations."
Gaston, trustee's professor and former provost at Kent State, describes the "Degree Qualification Profile" as a framework that "illustrates clearly what students should be expected to know and be able to do once they earn their degrees." The profile hopes to establish a set of minimum standards in area such as communication, quantitative reasoning and major-specific skills for all American colleges and universities. For example, "If you say that your students will be able to communicate clearly, what are the standards by which you judge this?" Peterson said.
As a test school, NDSU is required to complete a quality improvement project by spring 2013 and an assurance visit in fall 2015. For its quality-improvement project, NDSU is evaluating its capstone courses using a template to assess how course activities for each major match the applied learning outcomes for the "Degree Qualifications Profile." Peterson said it requires departments to think in reverse. "We have to build backwards," he said. "If these student learning outcomes are the goal, how do we get there?" For the assurance visit, a team of higher education leaders will visit NDSU for a more focused and scaled down version of the current accreditation process.
Gaston has written extensively on the Bologna Process, academic strategic planning and assessing educational outcomes. He earned his doctorate in English from the University of Virginia and has been both a Woodrow Wilson and DuPont Fellow.
During his visit, he also will meet with NDSU's Core Undergraduate Learning Experiences team, a Faculty Senate ad hoc committee, reviewing general education requirements and assisting with accreditation, and with NDSU heads and chairs.