To future students and parents, the accreditation of a school and its programs can represent the quality of education. To other schools, it shows there are certain standards being kept. To future employers, it can be a seal of approval. But the value of the accreditation process varies across Cal Poly departments.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Web site said the goal of accreditation is to “ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality,” meaning that a department is meeting standards set by some type of accrediting agency. Some of these might include governance (making sure faculty are accomplishing goals and effectively planning for the future), diversity among students and faculty and keeping up with resources (right equipment and supplies, such as more pianos for the music department.)
For the majors that are unaccredited, the university has created certain standards in order to ensure a quality education is offered to all students.
There are three reasons why 40 of the majors at Cal Poly are not accredited. The first is that the department is in the process of applying for accreditation. The second is that the department or program lost accreditation and is currently in the process of re-obtaining it. The third and most common reason that a department is not accredited is that no accrediting agency exists for that program.
Dean of Liberal Arts Linda Halisky said often the accrediting programs are for more professionally-oriented majors, such as engineering, but as of right now the departments under the college are accredited or are soon to begin the process for re-accreditation.
“The general view of upper-level administration is, if a program can be accredited, if there is an accrediting agency affiliate, they need to be accredited,” Halisky said.
Currently, the journalism department is the only major in the process of re-obtaining accreditation. Journalism lost accreditation in 2001-2002 due to three reasons: lack of diversity within minority and female representation for both students and faculty, governance and administration not meeting academic goals set by the department or engaging in proper leadership and a lack of appropriate equipment facilities and funds, such as a darkroom in the age of digital media.
Since there is not an agency for every major, there are many unaccredited departments at Cal Poly, ranging from mathematics to English. Dean of Science and Math, Philip S. Bailey said in an e-mail that the only accredited department in his college is the College of Education. The other departments in the College of Math and Science have currently no agencies to accredit them.
Halisky also said all of the College of Liberal Arts undergoes program reviews for both the non-accredited and the accredited departments. The reviewers consist of two or three external professors from other CSU’s and one internal person from Cal Poly from a different college.
“(The reviewers) come and look at the program and assess it according to their understanding of nation wide prevailing standards,” Halisky said. “We take the recommendations of those program reviewers very seriously and where they suggest there might be improvements.”
Another department that does not have an accrediting agency is agriculture business, which according to the Department of Agribusiness Web site, is the largest agribusiness program in the United States. The agriculture department overall does not have an accrediting body, but there are some majors within the college that are specifically accredited, such as agriculture education and communication. Dean of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences David Wehner said all the programs in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences are accredited if they can be.
“No one has had it and lost it,” Wehner said. “All programs that can be accredited are.”
Wehner said the importance of accreditation depends on the major. For example, if forestry weren’t an accredited major, there would be fewer job opportunities for graduates. According to the Web site for the Society of American Foresters, safnet.org, many state licensure boards require that applicants have graduated from an accredited program. In other industries, accreditation does not impact the employment potential of graduates.
Journalism Chair Bill Loving has worked for both non-accredited and accredited journalism departments and deals with questions regarding accreditation frequently from prospective students and parents.
“Accreditation status of a department doesn’t affect careers. (It) won’t keep (students) from a job,” Loving said. “(People) get jobs from what they have learned and how they demonstrate what they have learned.”
Loving said non-accreditation may hurt a major’s status and influence the determent of future students and parents more than it hurts current and past students.
“A lack of accreditation means (the journalism department) cannot apply for certain federal grants,” he said.
Because meeting some standards often requires spending money (to improve printing facilities for graphic design, for instance), a department can apply for certain federal funds to help keep up accreditation standards. Other departments such as the Orfalea College of Business pays to remain accredited, since they cannot acquire money from being accredited.
“(Accreditation) costs us money,” said Dave Christy, dean of the Orfalea College of Business. “These organizations don’t have money per se. We have to keep earning this (accreditation). We spend money as a school to keep being accredited.”
Maintaining accreditation can be expensive. For example, Christy said Orfalea pays for proper resources such as conferences for staff since “it is better to be accredited than not.”
“(Accreditation is a) signal of quality; it attracts good students; it attracts better students,” Christy said. ” Your alumni, they are more likely to support the school.”
Cal Poly child development graduate Jenna Segura said nobody asked her about accreditation when she looked for work.
“I attended Cal Poly for both my undergraduate and master’s degree, but I didn’t even know about being accredited,” she said. “My job never said anything about it. I was hired without any problems.”