University accreditation a "good thing for Cap"

Capilano University is seeking accreditation status, a process which will provide credibility to the institution’s degrees as well as offer quality assurance. The university is being evaluated by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), a commissioning company in the United States. In the first week of November, the commission came to Capilano for its third comprehensive evaluation visit.

“This started well before I came,” says Dr. Kris Bulcroft, who assumed presidency over Capilano earlier this year. The application process began with the previous president, Dr. Greg Lee, who released a document in 2004 detailing why Capilano should apply for accreditation through the NWCCU, back when the institution was still a college.

“Accreditation is a process on ongoing evaluation and review that ensures that the quality, standards and outcomes of an institution are consistent with its claims and with accepted standards,” reads the document.

Dr. Lee stressed the importance of accreditation, particularly in light of the emergence of new private universities and many existing colleges and institutes that are beginning to grant degrees.

“This change makes for some confusion, and understanding the quality of our institutions has become even more important as students from around the world choose to study in Canada,” says the document, “and Canadian institutions enter into student exchanges with similar institutions around the globe.”

Although many schools, both private and public institutions, have sought out accreditation, only two schools from Canada are currently seeking accreditation from the NWCCU – Capilano and SFU.

Since neither BC nor Canada has a formally recognized system of post-secondary accreditation, students have no measure of quality assurance when attending Canadian institutions. This burden is particularly heavy on international students.

One benefit of accreditation, says Dr. Bulcroft, is that “other schools can’t question the quality … of these credentials,” noting that applying for accreditation is fairly common at institutions in Europe.

There are several steps to receiving accreditation: becoming an applicant, then a candidate and finally receiving accreditation. Capilano is currently in the candidacy stage, having successfully applied and deemed to be an eligible candidate several years ago. In order to apply, a series of documents about the institution, alongside a $2,500 application fee, had to be submitted.

If accreditation is achieved, Capilano University will be required to pay membership fees to the NWCCU. The amount paid is based off of a university’s total general and educational expenditures. In the university’s audited financial statements for the year ending on March 31, 2010, this amount was $79,589,324, meaning that Capilano would pay $12,932 in dues annually to the commission.

As an institution moves through the accreditation process, the commission makes multiple visits to the campuses to measure the progress made and to make further recommendations. Between each visit the institution works to make those improvements and then submits a report to the commission prior to their next visit. Capilano’s latest report is available on the university’s website.

Following their visit at the beginning of November, the NWCCU will submit a report to Capilano, which Dr. Bulcroft says will be posted publically once it has been approved by the necessary bodies.

In the meantime, the commission has noted several things verbally about Capilano University, in a series of commendations and recommendations. According to Bulcroft, the university should be commended on the fact that it is very student-centred, committed to its core mission, functioning as a whole campus and that people really “understood what Cap was about.”

For recommendations, the university needs to continue to advance the assessment of programs and student learning, develop a “facilities masterplan” and to find a way to do consistent staff evaluations.

“It really helps us as an institution,” says Dr. Bulcroft, “because it helps us know how to improve.” She also brought up the benefit of having people evaluating the university with new eyes, instead of having it evaluated by people who are frequently a part of Capilano.

“I thought it was really well-organized,” says Bulcroft of the commission’s visit, adding that there were “no surprises” to the outcome as the recommendations were all logical. She also mentioned the evident passion for Capilano and how positive people were about the institution – not using the commission’s visit as a means to express their discontent with any issues at Capilano, but instead working together to move the university forward.

As part of their visit, the NWCCU team requested meetings with faculty, students and staff before holding an open meeting for members of the Capilano community. Unfortunately, less than five students went to the meeting meant for students. The student group was comprised of the chairperson of the CSU executive, a staffperson of the CSU, and a representative of the Courier. The lack of attendance could be attributed to the lack of advertising about the event and on accreditation itself.

Although according to representatives from the CSU, the CSU urged the university to advertise the meeting widely, any advertisement was last-minute and minimal. The CSU also attempted to put up posters. “We dropped the ball somewhere,” says Dr. Bulcroft, noting that the next time this occurs, there needs to be more advertising.

In April of 2012 the NWCCU’s site team will return to Capilano and see if the institution has completed their latest recommendations, in the final leg of the journey that Dr. Bulcroft called “our big final exam.” Soon after, the NWCCU will decide whether or not they will grant Capilano University accreditation status.

“I think it’s a good thing for Cap,” says Bulcroft on accreditation, “[and] for the students.”

//Samantha Thompson, News Editor

//graphic by Natahsha Prakash

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