Progress Updates

October 2012

The following is the text of the report presented to the Board at its October 2013 meeting.

Just quickly to remind you–we are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.  Every ten years we conduct a self-study and apply to have our accreditation continued.  The HLC has a set of five criteria that each member institution must address in their self-study.

We are currently at a point where we have collected evidence for all five criteria and have summarized it in bullet points.  You will remember that this document was the result of a year of work on the part of five working groups composed of faculty, staff, and students.  We took all their work and created huge documents that contain very detailed information and evidence lists.  From these, we pulled out the most essential information and created condensed versions —Angela will be posting those to the Board wiki next week.  The condensed versions are just that, condensed.  They do not include the list of the evidence we are using nor does it include the “assumed practices” section.  Assumed practices are things that the HLC sees as minimum standards.  Institutions are expected to meet them.  Because we have evidence to show that we are in compliance with all of these assumed practices, we have left them off the condensed version of the documents.

We are spending this month taking the document to different constituencies for feedback—this includes Cabinet, other administrators, the major committees and other key individuals across campus.  We send them the portions of the criteria that are most relevant to their work and they let us know what might be missing or wrong and they give us additional evidence for our points.

We will be posting these condensed versions soon on the College website for anyone to comment on.

On November 1 we are hosting a Read In Day.  We will break up these condensed documents into small pieces (2-3 pages) and station ourselves at various locations around campus.  Anyone can come, choose a section that interests them, read it, and comment on it.    To ensure that staff can participate, we have set aside a special place and time for them to drop in—the Staff Committee has been helping us with this.  We have already begun advertising for the Read In on campus.

After Read In, we are going into a cave and writing the report (think of monks at large tables with quills).  The report will be narrative—much more interesting to read than these bullet points.  At this point, we do not think it will strictly follow the order of the HLC’s criteria.  It is important to us that we Woosterize this and create a document that helps us with our strategic planning.  Additionally, these criteria are brand new to the HLC—and they are still a little rough.  For example, there is repetition across the criteria.  We have gone ahead and repeated ourselves in our drafts, but when we write the report, we will make sure to say things only once.

At some point in the beginning of the year, the HLC requires us to initiate a period of public comment.  This means that we will have to let the larger Wooster community, parents, and alumni know about the reaccreditation and give them an opportunity to comment on the College’s operations.  We plan to put notices in the Daily Record and on our website.  People will be directed to the HLC website where they can leave comments.

We hope to have a draft of the report by the time school reconvenes in January.  There will be a short period for comments before we finalize the report.  The final version has to be done 8 weeks ahead (mid-February) and sent to the visiting team and the HLC electronically.

The visit is April 15-17.  The visiting team will want to meet with some members of the Board.  Our HLC representative says that most teams like to meet with Board members early on in the visit—usually Monday morning.  The team will also want to meet with the major committees on campus, the senior staff and some directors, and with students, faculty, and staff in open session.  We should be talking with the chair of the visiting team about two months ahead so that we can set up a schedule that works for them.

We do not expect to receive the report from the visiting team until the Fall of 2013.  At that point, we will have a chance to correct any errors of fact before they issue a final version to the institutional accreditation committee of the HLC which ultimately makes the continuing accreditation decision.

Main Findings:

We are going to let you know some of the main findings to emerge from each of the criterion.  This is in no way comprehensive, but we wanted to give you a flavor of what we see as the main themes—both in terms of areas in which the College is doing well and areas in which there is room for improvement.  The overall message, however, is that the College is doing extremely well and has made remarkable progress in many areas over the last ten years.

Criterion 1

+ The College has a mission mindset.  The mission drives discourse on campus.  Strategic planning is much more comprehensive and it is also driven by the mission.

+ The educational mission of the College calls on us to embrace diversity.  We have made strides in becoming more diverse, we continue to work on fostering a welcoming campus climate for all.

– One small section of this criterion asks about being mindful that we also serve the public good. We conduct a number of activities that serve the public good.  Some of these activities, however, do not explicitly describe how they fit with the College’s mission.  Camps and conferences are an example.

Criterion 2

+ The Wooster Ethic is an important component of College life.

–  The ethic should be more integrated into the fabric of the College. (This came up in discussions with students and staff.)

+  Our focus on improving our governance processes and increasing transparency has resulted in revisions in many policies, governing structures, and documents, all emphasizing “best practices” including integrity, ethical and responsible conduct, and communication.

+  We have many policies that guide our behavior and operations.

–  It may be difficult to find all the policies (i.e., they are not easily located).  Faculty and staff may not be aware of all the policies. Some are outdated or inconsistent with others. We are not always consistent in how well we communicate changes in policies.

+  The website is one place that we present ourselves to all our constituencies.

–   As we have used the website more as a “repository” it has become cluttered and  difficult to navigate.
+ The changes the Board has made in its governance structure have resulted in the Board focusing on high-level matters of strategic importance to the college, and as a result of these discussions, the Board taking specific actions in advancing elements of our Strategic Framework.

 Criterion 3

+  There have been major advances in advising (from Arch to APEX).  We took a process that was good and made it better.

+  We are working actively to integrate the College’s mission and graduate qualities into departmental learning goals and into individual classes.

+  One of the components of criterion three is that we have the facilities that support student learning.  Evidence of this is our continued updating of our campus facilities master plan with an eye to facilities that support our core mission.

+  The HLC asks if “every degree program engages students in collecting and analyzing information.”  We love this one because it describes IS to a tee.

–   Staff training and development opportunities are not always well advertised.  Not all staff members are aware of the opportunities available to them and some would like more opportunities for training, for example.  We do recognize that while initial efforts are being made, we should pay continued attention to advancing our human resource function.

Criterion 4

+   Programs that exist around retention and persistence have been updated and improved.

+   We do much more assessment than we did 10 years ago and we do it much better than we did 10 years ago.

–   There is room for assessment efforts to be better integrated.  For example, we have only recently begun to work on an institutional feedback loop—using assessment conducted at the departmental and program level to make institutional planning decisions.

–   In addition, we may have reached an assessment plateau. This means that assessment is very much part of our culture now and we understand what we are doing.  As a result, we are ready to look over our policies from a place of knowledge and decide on a direction for the future.  Some policies may need to be changed and roles and responsibilities more clearly delineated.

Criterion 5

+   The budget planning process is much more mission-driven and data-driven than in the past.

+ and –   While our resource base supports our current program adequately in terms of HLC’s financial benchmark, we know we must grow and diversify our sources of revenue.

+   Through intentional, planning priority related resource allocation, we have increased the proportion of our resource allocation to our “core mission”(primarily educational activities) and decreased our allocation to “institutional support” (primarily administration)

+   We definitely engage in systematic and integrated planning.

–   We still have work to do on documenting the linkages among our planning, assessment, and resource allocation decisions.

In sum, the process of self study has—so far—been extremely useful in helping us to think about the ways we have grown as an institution.  In conjunction with our strategic planning work, it is also giving us the space to think about where we want to go in the next ten years. Our feeling is that, while there are minor areas where the HLC  may express concern, overall, the re-accreditation process should proceed smoothly

What can you do to help? 

We would love to have any input you might have on any of the criteria.  You can email us comments or call us—whatever works for you.  As I mentioned, we would really prefer all comments to come in by November 1.  The Board has a unique and important perspective on this institution and we want the document to adequately—and accurately—represent that perspective.  Thank you for your time.

June 2012

Our self-study process has moved into the assimilation of findings and writing stages.  This briefing is a first look at the findings of our five working groups, in the context of the Higher Learning Commission’s Criteria for Accreditation.

Significant themes that are emerging as we review the reports of the working groups include:

  •  We have a “mission mindset.”  We found, consistently, that we ask the question “How does this relate to our mission?” when we consider proposals for new programs, activities, or resource allocation.
  • We are doing much in support of our diversity efforts across the institution.  Given this, we are trying to gain a better, evidence-based, understanding of our campus climate issues.
  • We are policy-centered.  Perhaps to the extent that we have too many policies which has resulted in our inability to evaluate their effectiveness and necessity, inconsistencies among and between them, and too many of them to organize so that we can find them.
  • We heeded the Higher Learning Commission’s admonishment of our educational assessment practices a decade ago, and now have an abundance of assessment data that is getting dated. And, given this intense focus, we believe we have reached an assessment “plateau” as our departmental process is well established, the number of departments completing annual reports has declined this year, and that there is a sense of “assessment fatigue,” especially among faculty.  That said, we are just beginning assessment of our Graduate Qualities, an important effort which should demonstrate to the Commission that we have a plan and are taking this seriously.  It may be time for us to “assess assessment.”
  • We have established a culture of planning and a planning process that is information-driven, transparent, and inclusive.  We have linked related plans (educational initiatives, marketing, enrollment, campus facilities, multi-year financial) to our strategic framework.  We now need to establish a similar culture of evaluating our institutional effectiveness and demonstrating the linkages among our planning, priorities, resource allocation decisions, and our evaluation.
  • We have strengthened our governance groups and processes through continued review and restructuring.  Roles and responsibilities of the Board, administration, faculty, students, and staff have been clarified and affirmed and while we have more to do, initial assessments by the Board and faculty suggest the revisions have been to good effect.

We have some components yet to complete.  That is our work for June as we weave our criteria-based findings with evidence from our periodic assessments of progress on our strategic objectives and initiatives.

February 2012

Our self-study process has moved into the evidence gathering and examination phase with working groups focused on their research, analysis, and the initial formulation of findings.   We are now working with the Higher Learning Commission’s “gamma” version of the new criteria for accreditation. The Steering Committee has reviewed working group progress to date, outlined strategy and plans for this term, and have started to incorporate our Strategic Framework and emerging trends into the self-study.  At this point in the process, students, faculty, and staff are engaged in the self-study as experts, providing working groups with insight into the evidence that is being gathered and examined.  President Cornwell will meet with each working group this semester.

The New Criteria for Accreditation

In November, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) released the “gamma” version of its new criteria for accreditation.  If the HLC’s process proceeds as we anticipate, the “gamma” version should be very close to the final version that will be adopted by the Commission at its February 2012 Board meeting.  The changes from “beta” to “gamma” did not dramatically impact our working groups: in some instances, the changes further clarified the meaning of the criteria and significantly reduced the potential for duplication of working group effort.

Steering Committee & Working Group Activity

The Steering Committee began the spring term with a retreat focused on our strategies for completing the self-study work this term,  a detailed update on each working group’s progress and how well the groups are functioning, “Woosterizing” the self-study (incorporating our Strategic Framework and how we will effectively convey what is distinctively Wooster in the document),  campus engagement, expectations for President Cornwell’s visits with each of the working groups, and a review of our timeline for completing the self-study.

Strategies for Completing the Self-Study
Each working group has adopted an approach to completing the self-study that it believes will be effective given the nature of its work, the types of evidence it is gathering and reviewing, and its members.  One group has determined the best approach is to meet weekly, so that if a member needs to miss a meeting, it is not three or more weeks before the member meets with the working group again.  Others have assigned individuals or teams to examine one or more elements of a criterion in depth, preparing the analysis, and sharing it with the working group which reviews and provides feedback and additional insights and perspectives.  Some are working through existing governance committees where the insight into a particular criterion element is the responsibility of the committee.

Working Group Progress
The working groups have been gathering evidence and beginning the process of reviewing and analyzing the evidence in the context of the criteria for accreditation.

Evidence gathering has included the literal process of locating documents, reports, surveys, and data.  To date, we have cataloged 269 pieces of evidence, 249 of which we have in hand (electronically).  Working group members have interviewed, and will continue to interview, many individuals across campus including Trustees, President Cornwell, Cabinet members, governance committees, department directors, staff and students.  These interviews have taken a number of forms, ranging from individual meetings to group interview and orientation sessions (for example, working group members attending our January Admissions Open House and then meeting with Enrollment and Marketing division leadership) and including asking groups to consider broader elements of the self-study (for example, asking the Horizon Group to ponder the HLC’s expectation that institutions think beyond the present and identify emerging issues and factors that impact, or have the potential to impact, how we advance our mission).

While evidence gathering and analysis continues, working groups are bringing forward very early findings based on the evidence examined to date.  These early findings are in no way conclusive: they represent an assessment based on one of multiple pieces of evidence.  In formulating their findings and commendations, suggestions, and recommendations, working groups, and ultimately the steering committee, will consider what is learned from all evidence.  Examples of some “early findings” follow at the end of this update.

Sustaining our Momentum: “Woosterizing” the Self-Study
Our purpose is not simply to be reaccredited, but to use the self study as a way to inform Wooster’s own strategic planning.  The Steering Committee and working groups are now weaving elements of our Strategic Framework and emerging issues identified by our continued planning and the Horizon Group into the criteria.

Campus Engagement
Because of the centrality of the self study to Wooster’s planning and future, it is important that the process be highly visible on campus and participatory.  In addition to our webpage and meetings with individuals in our pursuit of evidence, we will have conducted six open meetings by the end of February.  These community meetings, each hosted by a working group, provide the opportunity for faculty and staff to discuss elements of the criteria with the working group members.  While the discussions have proven very useful to our working groups, we find that despite our outreach efforts those who participate are individuals already engaged directly in the self-study activity.  We anticipate greater engagement this summer when we plan informal reading sessions of our early draft of the self-study.

President Cornwell’s Meetings with the Working Groups
This semester, working groups are meeting with President Cornwell to discuss their work and seek his perspectives on their criterion.

Timeline Status
We anticipate meeting critical deadlines this term, with the goal of a bulleted draft by mid-May to serve as the basis for discussion at the Board meeting in June.

While it may appear that we are mired in the process, the reality is that, as one student told us last year when we asked “Why Wooster?” — “it’s clicking!” for us.   We welcome your comments and questions.

Early Findings:  A Test of Our Process

The following are examples of early findings of the working groups.  These are not complete findings, nor are they conclusions.  They represent what the working groups have learned about criterion elements based on the evidence examined to date.  In a self-study process, such early findings are critically reviewed by members of the working group and the steering committee, often leading to the gathering of additional, affirming or refuting evidence and revision of the finding and any commendations, suggestions, or recommendations.  They are offered as examples of the evidence gathering, review, and analysis process that are our primary activities this term.

Working Group 1: Mission
The institution’s mission is clear and articulated publicly; it guides the institution’s operations.

Criterion1. B.1: The institution clearly defines its mission through one of more public documents, such as statements of purpose, vision, values, goals, plans, or institutional priorities.

Evidence Reviewed: Codes of Community and Individual Responsibility

What it is: The Codes of Community and Individual Responsibility are explicitly listed in the Scot’s Key, The College of Wooster’s comprehensive guide to policies and procedures in regards to both academia and general Campus Community. The Codes stress the importance of honesty, integrity, and responsibility in all areas of academic and social life.  The Wooster Ethic is printed on the basic as a reference.

The Scot’s Key is updated and published each academic year and posted to The College of Wooster’s website and can be accessed by the general public including the entire campus community. The Wooster Ethic is also publically signed at the beginning of every academic year by the incoming first year class. A ceremony is held and led by Dean Holmes as well as other faculty members, and each member of the incoming class signs in agreement to adhere to the integrity of the Ethic. The Wooster Ethic specifically helps highlights Wooster’s dedication to creating a culture of honesty and trust to each incoming student.

Working Group 2: Ethical and Responsible Conduct
The institution fulfills its mission ethically and responsibly.

Criterion: 2.A    The institution establishes and follows fair and ethical policies and processes for its governing board, administration, faculty, and staff in its financial, academic, personnel, and auxiliary functions.

As the subcommittee reviewed the evidence for this criterion we found that it was best to break this area into four categories so we divided the areas by financial, academic, auxiliary and personnel.  Although we still have evidence to examine we found the following information with regards to the College of Wooster meeting the standards of fair and ethical policies in the area of personnel as noted in the following areas:

  • The website of the Human Resource Department. Documents such as Salary Staff Evaluation form, Hourly Staff Evaluation form and the Staff Grievance Procedure outlined on the website.
  • The Staff Handbook which can be found on the Human Resource Department website. Chapters 1, 3 and 6 are direct evidences to the area of this criterion, particularly chapter 1 page 4, chapter 3 page 3 and 9 and chapter 6 page 4.
  • The Scots Key Student Handbook which can be found on the College of Wooster website under the Dean of Students area. The Sexual Harassment policy on page 51 of the Scots Key is evidence of such policies and The Wooster Ethic found on page 61 of the Scots Key is also evidence that supports this criteria.

There were areas that we as a subcommittee continue to examine relative to this criterion, for example:

  • Concerns regarding the inconsistencies that exist with whether evaluations are done.  Human Resources indicated that last year salary staff evaluations were completed at 96% and hourly evaluations were done at 95%.  In speaking with some supervisors, it was clear that both salary and hourly staff supervisors did a better job this year of getting evaluations done.  We need to examine a five year average to get a better understanding of how we can do better.
  • There is a concern that there is no policy to link evaluations to raises.  As a subcommittee, we would suggest that the college look into creating that link to evaluations and also that the College of Wooster moves to conducting 360 degree evaluations every 3 to 5 years that evaluations are being done.
  • There is a concern that is no safe space for filing or handling grievances.  We feel that The College of Wooster should consider having a grievance committee for staff in the same way it does for faculty with the use of similar policies.

Working Group 3: Teaching and Learning-Quality, Resources, and Support
The institution provides high quality education, wherever and however its offerings are delivered.

Criterion  3A: The institution’s degree programs are appropriate for higher education.

3A1– Courses and programs are current and require levels of performance by students appropriate to the degree or certificate awarded.

Evidence Reviewed:

  • 10 year Curricular Review Curricular Review Documents
  • Academic Standards Committee
  • EPC Minutes EPC Wiki 2011-2012
  • Departmental Assessments of Independent Study
  • Student Presentations at Conferences Student Travel Overview 2010

The College of Wooster has a formalized mechanism for reviewing departmental and programmatic curricula to determine whether these programs are appropriate to the standards established by the discipline, and in line with the mission and goals of the institution. Each department or program is required to complete an evaluation every ten years.  This evaluation includes a self-study by the department or program, in which departments identify learning goals for their students and their success in achieving them.  These self-evaluations examine the structure of the curriculum, and align this structure to the mission of the college.

Departments additionally bring in consultants from other institutions, typically one representing a similar liberal arts institution, and one from a research institution.  These consultants review the curriculum based on disciplinary standards, and make recommendations to the Provost and the Educational Policy Committee.  Following the review, departments/programs develop an action plan.  One year later, departments/programs are required to submit a progress report outlining progress made on the action plan.

Working Group 4:  Teaching and Learning–Evaluation and Improvement

The institution demonstrates responsibility for the quality of its educational programs, learning environments, and support services, and evaluates their effectiveness for student learning through processes designed to promote continuous improvement.

Criterion 4B3: The institution uses the information gained from assessment to improve student learning

Evidence Reviewed:  SURE survey

What it is. The SURE survey (Summer Undergraduate Research Experience) is on on-line survey administered by Professor David Lopatto of Grinnell College through HHMI funding (Lopatto 2004, Cell Biology Education vol. 3 pp. 270-277). It is designed to get a measure of the learning gains associated with undergraduate research. Its main features are sections that capture demographic information, overall satisfaction with the experience, and self-reported gains in learning achieved through the research experience.

As cited above, the SURE survey is reviewed by the HHMI steering committee that evaluates the data and makes decisions about any changes that might be implemented to improve the experience for students and faculty alike. This has been effective in improving student self reported gains in specific attributes, understanding the primary literature and understanding that assertions require evidence.

Working Group 5:  Resources, Planning, and Institutional Effectiveness

The institution’s resources, structures, and processes are sufficient to fulfill its mission, improve the quality of its educational offerings, and respond to future challenges and opportunities. The institution plans for the future.

Criterion 5.C.1.: The institution allocates its resources in alignment with its mission and priorities.

Evidence reviewed:  Meeting with the Financial Advisory Committee (FAC), January 26, 2012

FAC provided working group members with additional sources of evidence including the role that they have played in advising on issues such allocating surpluses toward the renovation of Babcock Hall and advising the President on the College’s capital and operating budgets.  Members of FAC believe that Wooster does allocate its resources in alignment with its mission and priorities based on the evidence that the largest portion of the budget is allocated for the College’s educational program, each student has a faculty advisor for Independent Study, and funds are provided for mentored undergraduate research. The faculty salary project is also an indication that Wooster does consider its mission and priorities when allocating its resources. That said, the faculty salary project is still a work in progress, and FAC has concerns about the best optimal size for Wooster, especially with regard to the need for additional faculty and space, the faculty composition of departments, and the cost of leave replacements.


October 10, 2011

Considerable progress has been made on organizing and launching Wooster’s self study for our spring 2013 continuing accreditation visit. With assurance from the Higher Learning Commission’s (HLC) leadership, we are proceeding to organize our work around the “beta” version of the criteria for accreditation, which was released in July. Our six working groups, each related to a criterion, have been formed and are making good progress.  Finally, as our work is fundamental to our strategic objective of “sustaining our momentum,” the Steering Committee has been intentional in its approach to the self-study to make the process integral to our planning and institutional assessment efforts.    

Changes at the Higher Learning Commission (HLC)

Like its member institutions, the HLC is required to seek regular continuing accreditation.  The HLC is engaged in this process with the U.S. Department of Education. As part of its self study, the HLC is updating its Criteria for Accreditation for all member institutions effective spring of 2013.  We received the alpha version of the new criteria in January and the beta version in July.  The HLC plans to have a final version by the end of the calendar year.  This timing presents challenges for Wooster’s self study as it places us among a small group of schools who will serve as the first group to be peer reviewed using the new criteria.

In August, we attended an HLC regional conference in Columbus to comment on the beta version and learn more about HLC’s plans for implementation.  The HLC representative made it clear that, while they expect the basic content of the beta version to remain the same, there may be a number of organizational changes.  For example, they may move some sub-points from one criterion to another.  Because our working groups are organized by criteria, the possibility of this type of change caused us come concern initially. At the conference, we sought out and met with the Executive Director of the HLC.  She assured us that the HLC is aware of the timing difficulties for 2013 schools and that we should move forward using the beta version.

Creation and Implementation of Working Groups

We have a three-tiered structure for the study.  There are three co-chairs, five steering committee members, and six working groups with about five members each.  The co-chairs are responsible for the design and organization of the study and will do the actual writing of the report.  We serve as liaisons to the working groups, helping them with understanding the criteria and their data collection efforts.  Steering committee members chair working groups and help the co-chairs to maintain the integrity and cohesion of the process.  Five of the working groups are charged with collecting and evaluating evidence for one of the five criteria.  The sixth working group is responsible for completing the required documentation to assure federal compliance.

We recruited members of the steering committee last spring and formed the working groups over the summer. Our primary goal was to involve a wide range of people from across campus.  In order to achieve this goal, we visited every major student, staff, and faculty committee on campus to explain the HLC process and to invite volunteers.  Once we had a list of volunteers, we added other names selected by brainstorming with Provost Newton and President Cornwell.  We are pleased to report that, with one exception, everyone we asked to be on a working group accepted our invitation and there is strong representation from every area of campus.  We also have a Trustee member (Reggie Williams).

At the time of this writing, each working group has met at least twice.  Most chose to spend the first session on an overview of the criteria and a quick review of their assigned criterion.  By the second meeting, working groups were focusing on their criterion by defining terms and beginning to identify the types of evidence they plan to collect and analyze.  All working groups will meet twice a month but they will also work on collecting evidence in between these meetings.

The amount of evidence that needs to be gathered and organized during this academic year is considerable.  We are fortunate that Danielle Schantz is joining our team as special projects coordinator. Having served in many roles at the College, she brings a wide range of experience  skill set that makes her an ideal addition to the team.   She is currently setting up an organizational system for cataloging data.

Sustaining Our Momentum

In August, President Cornwell hosted a kick-off dinner at his home for everyone involved in the continuing accreditation effort.  He reminded us that our goal is not simply to be reaccredited, but to use the self study as a way to inform Wooster’s own strategic planning.  We have chosen the theme “Sustaining our Momentum” to represent the place of the self study in our larger efforts to foster a culture of planning and assessment.   This theme is the third strategic objective outlined in the College’s Strategic Framework, that was endorsed by the Board of Trustees in Fall 2010.

Because of the centrality of the self study to Wooster’s planning and future, we are working to make it highly visible on campus.  We hope that this will ensure maximum participation from all parts of campus and will involve a wide range of people in our strategic planning.   We are doing this by visiting College committees on a regular basis to provide updates and to solicit their ideas.  We have also created a webpage that can be accessed by anyone who is interested in the process of our continuing accreditation (what you’re reading now)  and  we are planning a series of open meetings this fall and winter  These will take the form of brown bag gatherings for staff/faculty and evening meetings for students.  We will ask participants to help us think through each of the criteria and to identify types of evidence we might consider as we move forward.