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KC Bell, Jon Driver and Glynn Nichols

KC Bell, Jon Driver and Glynn Nicholls

SFU seeking U.S. accreditation

March 11, 2010

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With no comparable national quality-assurance organization in Canada, SFU has applied for formal accreditation from the Washington-based Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).

The NWCCU is one of six independent regional agencies officially sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Education to evaluate post-secondary school educational quality and institutional effectiveness.

The independent, non-profit NWCCU accepted SFU’s initial application in January 2009. The full accreditation process, which is based on a series of SFU self-assessments and NWCCU member peer reviews, will take between five and seven years to complete.

"When we investigated joining the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) we realized we’d have to decide about accreditation," says VP-academic
and accreditation sponsor, Jon Driver, "because the NCAA requires all its members to be accredited by a U.S. regional accreditation agency.

"As we did our homework, it became clear that accreditation could also lead to numerous academic and other non-athletic benefits."

Accreditation will enhance both the university’s reputation for academic quality and the value of an SFU degree for alumni abroad, while improving internal assessment and accountability, says academic planning and budgeting director, Glynn Nicholls, accreditation project manager.

"It will establish clearer benchmarks for assessing learning outcomes as well," says Nicholls, "and will smooth the progress of curriculum reform and benefit students’ learning experiences."

What’s more, "Canada is the only developed country that doesn’t have a national post-secondary accreditation system, so while we’re fulfilling an obligation we’re also taking advantage of a huge opportunity," says KC Bell, SFU’s special projects director and primary accreditation author.

"University accreditation is increasingly important to international students and their families, particularly in B.C. where several private colleges have failed in recent years.

"A globally recognized guarantee of quality will increase SFU’s profile abroad and help us attract the best international students."

But "the value of accreditation is not limited to quality assurance alone," says Driver. "It also fosters public confidence in an institution’s ability to fulfill its stated mission and goals."

SFU will be the first major Canadian post-secondary research institution to be accredited in the U.S., although Capilano University is also seeking accreditation
and Alberta’s exclusively online Athabasca University was accredited in 2006.

The SFU accreditation team
SFU has taken a novel approach to developing its self-study report by establishing a project team to manage the process.

The lead team members are:
  • Project sponsor Jon Driver, vice-president, academic.
  • Project manager Glynn Nicholls, director of academic planning and budgeting.
  • Primary author KC Bell, director of special projects.
  • Author Michelle Hunt, senior financial analyst (ad hoc).
  • Author Lynda Erickson, retired SFU political scientist
  • Author Stephanie Chu, special projects advisor, teaching and learning task force (ad hoc).
The team will submit annual reports to SFU’s senate and board of governors on the progress being made towards full accreditation.

The accreditation process
The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) currently classifies SFU as an "applicant", a status that will last for the next two years. During that time, the university must conduct a very detailed self-study examining how its policies, procedures and practices relate to five overall standards prescribed by the NWCCU.

A team of senior administrators and academic peers from U.S. institutions will visit SFU and issue an evaluation report to which SFU will respond. If all goes well, SFU will be granted "candidate" status by the end of 2011.

Candidacy can last up to five years, during which time SFU will produce regular reports expected to lead to accredited status.

Once accredited, member institutions begin a regular seven-year cycle of annual reports and two visits from the NWCCU.

Each cycle concludes with a full self-study and re-accreditation.

SFU is funding the accreditation initiative from its Fraser International College revenues.

The accrediting organization
The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) is an independent, non-profit membership organization dedicated to educational excellence and improvement through peer evaluation and accreditation. It is one of six regional organizations recognized as accrediting authorities for post-secondary institutions by the United States Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The NWCCU is responsible for accrediting 163 universities and colleges in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and now British Columbia. Its decision-making body consists of as many as 26 commissioners who represent the public and higher education institutions within the region.

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