On March 4 through 6, officials from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges will visit Mills and determine whether they will reaccredit the college. The results of this process will shape how Mills is governed in the future.
WASC reaccreditation occurs approximately every 10 years and determines whether the college and its students are eligible for financial aid and grants.
A WASC committee reviews the College in three steps and advises the institution on how to meet Mills’ goals.
No institution loses their accreditation instantly, according to Marianne Sheldon, a history professor and the WASC accreditation liaison officer. The college is placed on probation where the areas of concern are monitored until the school can resubmit their reaccreditation proposals.
This visit is the second stage of the reaccreditation, according to Alice Knudsen, Director of Institutional Planning and Research. The first was the Institutional Proposal, which is the College’s plan for improvement. WASC accepted it in May 2008.
The visit, known as the Capacity and Prepatory Review, is the “the opportunity for the college to demonstrate that it has the capacity to do what we say we’re doing,” according to Sheldon.
The WASC committee is comprised of officials from other colleges and universities who volunteer to participate in the process.
These officials stay on campus for three days, talking with members of the Mills community and touring the facilities.
They will review four reflective essays written by teams of Mills faculty and staff that build on the ideas put forth in the Institutional Proposal.
Although most of the information the committee gathers comes in the form of statistical data, the College surveys students throughout the review process, according to Knudsen.
She said surveys are needed in order to assess the effectiveness of Mills as an educational institution.
“We’re not just trying to tell the outside world” about Mills said Knudsen, adding that the review is “self-reflective and involves faculty and staff and students as well.”
She and Sheldon both stressed the importance of “closing the loop,” between assessing problems at Mills and implementing the solutions.
Sheldon used the English 001 curriculum, which most freshwomen are required to take, as an example. According to Knudsen, student surveys that she did not provide a date for showed that many students were dissatisfied with the class and felt they were not getting what they needed out of it.
Every instructor now gets a template for the class curriculum so that students are getting all of the information they need.
Other surveys Mills hopes to use include the results of a transfer student survey that will be implemented within the next school year, and a survey or freshwomen, which Knudsen hopes will help Mills increase its retention rate.
Knudsen said that students, “need to realize that they are shaping what we’re doing.”
Knudsen is putting together focus groups to help the WASC committee assess student satisfaction. Students will have an opportunity to meet and discuss with the WASC officials on March 5.
The date and location were not known at the time of publication.
According to Knudsen, WASC tried to choose committee members who have knowledge and expertise in the areas that are helpful to what Mills is trying to accomplish – such as transfer student satisfaction.
WASC team chair Kathleen O’Brien, who is Vice President for Academic Affairs at Alverno College, has experience with improving the retention rate there, another area Mills is working on, according to Sheldon.
During O’Brien’s time as interim president in 2003-04 the retention rate at Alverno increased by three percent, according to US News and World report.
The final stage, the Educational Effectiveness Review, will occur in the summer and fall of 2010, according to the Mills website. In this review, the College will gather evidence to assure WASC that it has followed through with its improvement goals.