Cal Poly will try to put its best foot forward today after five years of work preparing for this week’s visit by a university-accreditation committee.
The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) will send five delegates to campus today. Led by former Washington State University president Samuel Smith, the group will tour Cal Poly and speak to people from different areas in the university, including Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong.
During the visit, which typically occurs every 10 years, WASC will evaluate the university on predetermined criteria. To keep the university’s accreditation status, Cal Poly must meet all of the criteria.
Director of the Cal Poly Center for Teaching and Learning Bruno Giberti and associate vice president for institutional review David Conn led the effort to prepare for the WASC review. The two said their goal was to make sure Cal Poly is ready for the visit.
“In some ways, it’s the culmination of a five-year process,” Giberti said.
That process started with a submission of documents to WASC, indicating Cal Poly’s plan on how to self-evaluate the university before the committee comes. The proposal, which WASC accepted in late 2007, focuses on Cal Poly’s identity as a polytechnic university in the 21st century.
Giberti said they found that Cal Poly is unique in its work as a polytechnic school.
“It combines aspects of different kinds of universities,” he said. “So at this point in the game, it is a complete, comprehensive polytechnic university.”
Students will also have the opportunity to speak about Cal Poly with WASC representatives at an open forum Wednesday morning at 10 a.m.
Conn said he anticipates students who attend will have very specific issues they want to discuss with the WASC panel, but he hopes that by combining the forum with visits around campus, the committee will see an accurate slice of what it is like to attend Cal Poly.
“The team is here to validate what they read in the report and see what Cal Poly is like in person,” Conn said.
Cal Poly administrative coordinator Rachel Henry worked to organize committees for the self-evaluation and was one of the editors of the final report. She said though the WASC team will spend most of its time on campus with administration and faculty, she strongly encourages students to attend the forum and become involved in the evaluation process.
“It’s a good opportunity for students to take ownership of their own education,” Henry said.
As part of the proposal and reports created in preparation for the WASC visit, the teams Henry helped form evaluated the status of current university practices.
One of their findings is, though the university has embraced “Learn By Doing” as a philosophy ingrained into the heart of the school, there is no system to evaluate and quantify the benefits gained by it. This created a problem in communicating Learn By Doing results to WASC.
“The whole thing is supposed to be evidence-based,” Conn said.
One of the areas looked at was the Cal Poly senior project. Giberti said though senior projects serves as a capstone of what students learn at Cal Poly, it is generally not reflective of the cumulative knowledge that students gain at the university.
“(The senior project) was looked at closely as a program for the first time in some time,” Giberti said.
He said their findings concluded there is also a large disparity in grades on the senior project, and the WASC committee would like to see less of a gap between high- and low-performance projects.
The WASC team will meet with Armstrong at the end of the visit. There, they will present recommendations to him, as well as a summary of their visit.
Immediately after, the group will present their findings in a 30-minute public meeting Thursday morning. There are no plans to answer questions from students after that presentation.
“When they give that exit presentation,” Conn said, “although it isn’t necessarily complete, they want it to be as complete as possible and as accurate as possible. Because they don’t want to be saying things, obviously, that people will find inaccurate.”
Accredited universities such as Cal Poly are officially recognized as trustworthy universities, according to the WASC website. Only students at accredited schools are accepted for financial aid in the form of Cal Grants. Additionally, units are significantly easier to transfer to other universities from an accredited college.