Frequently Asked Questions

 

Cal Poly is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). In spring 2012, this accreditation was reaffirmed for the longest possible period of ten years. We are presently at work compiling an institutional report and preparing for our next site visit, in April 2022. Our goal is once again to reaffirm our accreditation for this maximum ten-year period. We hope that the information below might answer questions that you have about this process and its significance to our university.

 

Background

What is university accreditation?

American colleges and universities are granted accredited status following a sustained review and quality assurance process carried out by one of seven federally-recognized regional organizations. These accrediting organizations are in turn represented by experts and representatives from similar colleges and universities, who provide a rigorous institutional-level peer review. As our accreditor explains, “the accreditation process is designed to build a culture of evidence, promote a commitment to institutional improvement, [and] validate institutional integrity.” Accreditation is meant to be a formative and reflective experience, and not a punitive one; members of the university community are encouraged to participate openly and honestly in the process.

[See: WSCUC, “The Purposes of WSCUC Accreditation”]

Who accredits Cal Poly?

The WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as certifying institutional eligibility for federal funding in a number of programs, including student access to federal financial aid. WSCUC is an institutional accrediting agency serving a diverse membership of public and private higher education institutions throughout California, Hawaii, and the Pacific as well as a limited number of institutions outside the U.S. Through its work of peer review, based on standards agreed to by the membership, WSCUC encourages continuous institutional improvement and assures the membership and its constituencies, including the public, that accredited institutions are fulfilling their missions in service to their students and the public good.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) was previously incorporated as a single entity that encompassed three different accrediting commissions. When Cal Poly last reaffirmed its accreditation, the accrediting commission still was known as WASC. In 2012-2013 the three Commissions re-incorporated as separate entities that share the same “WASC” acronym but are otherwise separate organizations with independent scopes and governance structures. The entity within WASC that accredits Cal Poly is now known as WSCUC, standing for WASC Senior College and University Commission. Here they are referred to both as WSCUC and as The Commission.

[See: WSCUC, "About Us"; Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), "Regional Accrediting Organizations"]

Why is accreditation important to Cal Poly?

Accreditation assures our campus community and partners that Cal Poly is rigorously evaluated and meets or exceeds standards of performance, integrity, and improvement agreed on by our peer institutions. Accreditation also enables our students to qualify for participation in federally-funded programs, including financial aid and research, and assures the value of a Cal Poly degree to the state of California, prospective employers, and graduate schools. It also assures Cal Poly’s value to current and prospective faculty and staff members and reaffirms the university’s importance to the Central Coast community.

The process of reaffirming our accreditation is an opportunity for us to undergo an institutional-level process of peer review, to discuss what is important to all members of the Cal Poly community, to analyze our strengths and challenges, to assess and support ongoing campus initiatives, and to discuss how to achieve our university goals. The idea of “reaffirmation” of our accreditation also allows us to proceed with a strength-based, not deficit-based, approach to evaluating our university’s performance according to widely accepted standards.

[See: WSCUC, “About Us”; Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), “Regional Accrediting Organizations”]

What does WSCUC expect from Cal Poly?

WSCUC wants us to be clear and committed to our institutional mission, strategic in our use of available resources, and capable of demonstrating the educational effectiveness of our programs, both curricular and co-curricular, in achieving student learning, student engagement, and student success (including timely graduation).

What are the WSCUC Standards, and where can they be found?

WSCUC calls upon institutions to ground their mission, capacity, and effectiveness in three Core Commitments: (1) Student Learning and Success; (2) Quality and Improvement; and (3) Institutional Integrity, Sustainability, and Accountability. From these three commitments, WSCUC has derived four Standards of Accreditation, which are used as a basis for judgment in accreditation reviews:

  • Standard 1: Defining Institutional Purposes and Ensuring Educational Objectives
  • Standard 2: Achieving Educational Objectives through Core Functions
  • Standard 3: Developing and Applying Resources and Organizational Structures to Ensure Quality and Sustainability
  • Standard 4: Creating an Organization Committed to Quality Assurance, Institutional Learning, and Improvement

WSCUC-accredited institutions are diverse in terms of mission, character, and type. The Standards are designed to be broad enough to honor that diversity, respect institutional mission, and support institutional autonomy. Institutions must demonstrate that they are in substantial compliance with the four Standards and 39 related Criteria for Review in order to become and remain accredited. The Standards and Criteria can be found in WSCUC’s 2013 Handbook of Accreditation Revised.

[See: WSCUC, “Understanding the WSCUC Standards”; WSCUC, “2013 Standards at a Glance”.]

 

Current Cycle

What is the Thematic Pathway for Reaffirmation?

Since Cal Poly’s last review in 2012, WSCUC has approved a new process for reaffirmation of accreditation called the Thematic Pathway for Reaffirmation (TPR). This innovation was motivated by WSCUC’s regular review and refinement of its process and standards, a national conversation on ways to improve peer review accreditation, and the idea that different kinds of institutions could be reviewed via different processes.

The thematic approach of the TPR permits institutions to identify areas of study that align with the WSCUC Standards to demonstrate clarity of mission, institutional capacity, and educational effectiveness. In the TPR, institutions provide evidence of compliance with WSCUC Standards and federal requirements and address one or more self-selected, meaningful, relevant, and campus-specific themes, in lieu of responding to all of the nine Components in the standard review process. Under this model, important WSCUC standards of improvement, accountability, and quality control are achieved through rigorous, honest campuswide discussions. The TPR Institutional Report consists of four sections (instead of the usual nine), and there is only one site visit and report (instead of two each).

[See: WSCUC, “Thematic Pathway for Reaffirmation (TPR) Guide”]

What are Cal Poly's TPR themes?

In 2017, Cal Poly was included in the second cohort of 12 institutions invited to take part in TPR during the 2019-22 review. In Fall 2018, Mary Pedersen, then-Senior Vice Provost and Accreditation Liaison Officer, and Associate Vice Provost (AVP) Bruno Giberti made a series of presentations to several groups of campus stakeholders. Feedback from participants pointed to interest in pursuing TPR themes that located Cal Poly’s reaffirmation efforts at the intersection of issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and student success as defined by the CSU’s Graduation Initiative 2025. In January 2019, our proposed themes and subthemes were approved by President Jeffrey Armstrong, and in July 2019 Cal Poly received an approval letter from WSCUC to explore the following theme:

Promoting the Success of All Cal Poly Students While Achieving the Goals of the CSU’s Graduation Initiative 2025

Specifically, Cal Poly is focusing on the following three subthemes:

  • Developing a Campus Culture that Is Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive
  • Recruiting and Retaining a More Diverse Community of Students, Staff, and Faculty
  • Teaching and Learning How to Live and Work in a Diverse World

Our university’s ongoing efforts, initiatives, and discussions in all of these directions will constitute an important part of our institutional report.  These discussions will surely touch on many difficult and hurtful events in our university’s recent history.  The leaders and members of Cal Poly’s TPR project are dedicated to exploring these topics in an authentic and inclusive way, with an eye toward improvement and progress. 

[See: Cal Poly, WSCUC Accreditation, “Thematic Pathway for Reaffirmation”]

What is WSCUC’s position on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion?

WSCUC adopted an “Equity and Inclusion Policy” in 2017. This policy states, in part,

As institutions of higher education, the purpose of colleges and universities is to deliver an essential public good, namely a high‐quality, post‐secondary education. Institutional commitments to advancing educational excellence and fostering an engaged, civil society are demonstrated in part by policies and practices that help ensure the success of diverse student populations and prepare all students to learn and derive value from the broad representation of colleges and universities that are members of WSCUC.

WSCUC member institutions have valuable assets, including rich programs that are reflective of the goals of the diverse student populations that they serve, that stem from a belief that educated people are engaged “citizens of the world,” as well as a commitment to scholarship as a form of expression and expansion of knowledge. Students benefit most from these assets where there is a climate of respect for a diversity of backgrounds, ideas, and perspectives, and where the institution’s various constituencies deal honestly and constructively with issues of equity and inclusion.

WSCUC has been very supportive of Cal Poly’s proposal to make DEI work the linchpin of our efforts to reaffirm our accreditation. Moreover, explicit questions about DEI are at the heart of several of WSCUC’s Criteria for Review: CFR 1.4 on DEI policies, CFR 2.2.a on diversity in the curriculum, and CFR 3.1 on the diversity of faculty and staff.

Who is working on Cal Poly’s TPR project?

Every effort has been made to ensure that our TPR governance committees are constituted of faculty, staff, and students from across campus, representing many diverse experiences and perspectives. Information on the TPR Leadership Committee, TPR Steering Committee, and TPR Working Groups can be found on our “Thematic Pathway for Reaffirmation: Governance” webpage.

What is the timeline for Cal Poly’s WSCUC accreditation review?

  • Institutional Report due: February 16, 2022
  • Site Visit: April 27-29, 2022
  • Commission Accreditation Decision: June 22-23, 2022

The Commission hopes that all members of the university community, including students, staff, and faculty, will be able to participate in the April 2022 visit.

Who is on the site visit team that will review Cal Poly’s accreditation?

WCal Poly’s guide through the process will be our WSCUC liaison, Dr. Susan Opp. Dr. Opp joined WSCUC as Vice President in January 2020; before that she served as Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at California State University Maritime Academy. The other members of the peer review site visit team will be:

  • Ronald Carter, Provost, Loma Linda University (Team Chair)
  • Amanda Brey, Director of Program Review and Accreditation, University of California, Santa Barbara (Team Assistant Chair)
  • Melany Hunt, Dotty and Dick Hayman Professor of Mechanical Engineering, California Institute of Technology
  • Maureen Scharberg, Accreditation Liaison Officer and Dean of Academic Programs & Services, California State University, East Bay
  • Becky Petitt, Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, University of California San Diego

What happens after the site visit and accreditation decision?

After the site visit concludes on April 29, the team members will take approximately eight weeks to prepare and send us their report on the visit and our institutional self-study. President Armstrong will have the opportunity to submit a response. Two weeks after the accreditation decision, WSCUC will send an action letter to President Armstrong and AVP Giberti, now Accreditation Liaison Officer (ALO); WSCUC will also publish the action letter and team report on its website.

Within a month of receiving the action letter, AVP Giberti will distribute the action letter to the campus community. He will also inform the community of the next steps, i.e. the action items generated by the self-study and team report. Then, over the next several years, university leaders will be asked to implement these action items; these efforts in turn will be catalogued and reviewed during the next cycle of review. For example, the Capacity and Preparatory Review (2009) and Educational Effectiveness Review (2012) reports submitted as part of the previous cycle generated 150 action items in 11 main categories, the progress towards which is all included in the current self-study.

 

Additional Information

Where can I find Cal Poly’s WSCUC accreditation documents?

Documents from Cal Poly’s previous accreditation cycles — “Our Polytechnic Identity in the 21st Century” (2012 Reaffirmation) and “Cal Poly as a Center of Learning” (2000 Reaffirmation) — can be found at our “Institutional Records” page.

Where can I submit any comments or questions about Cal Poly’s accreditation?

At the present time, all comments or questions can be submitted to Associate Vice Provost and Accreditation Liaison Officer Bruno Giberti and Professor Andrew Morris, Faculty Director of the WSCUC Self-Study, via this form, or emailed to reaffirmation@calpoly.edu. Your comments and questions will be kept confidential, unless you ask that they be shared with others.

As the site visit approaches, WSCUC will create a confidential email account for their visit to Cal Poly. This email address will be shared with the entire campus community, and will give those who cannot or do not wish to attend one of the open meetings an opportunity to communicate with the visiting team. The assistant chair of the visiting team will read all emails carefully, but will not respond to them, and will not include any comments in the team report unless it has an opportunity to investigate them and the institution has an opportunity during the visit to respond.

[See: WSCUC, “Visit Process Guide” (revised 2021)]

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