WSC prepares for accreditation visit

Sarah Lentz, Staff Writer

For the first time in eight years, Wayne State College will have its education practices and campus culture closely inspected by outside examiners.

From next Wednesday through Friday (April 2-4), WSC will renew its accreditation by hosting visitors from the Higher Learning Commission. WSC utilizes the Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP) offered by the HLC. AQIP allows schools to work continually to improve education on campus.

“The advantage is that you’re always working to improve yourself, so you’re always proactive,” Sue Sydow, Director of Assessment, said.

Accreditation also ensures that the college sticks not only to HLC standards of quality education, but also to federal guidelines laid out by the U.S. Department of Education.

“That’s how you get your financial aid. Accreditation allows us to get federal funds and give them to students,” Sydow said.

AQIP wants accredited schools to focus on opportunities to improve the quality of education and the environments where students learn and staff and faculty work, set goals and work to achieve them and engage in continuous strategic planning. Through strategic planning on the part of staff, faculty and administrators, the majority of the AQIP process involves identifying areas to improve education and campus life and continue to work on those issues throughout several years.

Another facet of AQIP is that the college picks at least three projects to work on every year, known as action projects. Action projects encourage the campus to be proactive in working on projects that benefit the school.

Currently, WSC is working on six action projects that range from developing a theater arts concentration program on campus to creating a process to review, update and record policies and procedures on campus.

One current project, which focuses on creating a way for online classes to have evaluations as do regular face-to-face classes, is already nearing completion.

“We’re running a pilot this semester, with online surveys on eCampus,” Dr. Kelly Dilliard, assistant professor of earth science and part of the group looking to improve online learning, said.

Past action projects have led to the creation of the Human Resource Department, implementation of service learning projects and study abroad opportunities.

Though the accreditation process can seem confusing and unimportant to students, using AQIP as WSC’s accreditation process has benefits students should be aware of.

“We determine what’s best for campus,” Dr. Robert McCue, professor of biology and member of the strategic planning committee, said. “If we decide to make something a goal, then we fund it and really go after it.”

Other accreditation programs aren’t necessarily as goal-oriented as AQIP. With other programs, goals come from the accreditors and not the institution.

“The whole idea of AQIP is that you need bottom-up thinking to be a healthy organization. Students are our business, so support staff want to make things better in the dorms, in the Rec Center and with technology,” McCue said.

AQIP allows the school to focus on what students, faculty and staff feel needs to be improved. Though Wayne State has very few actual problems, the accreditation process encourages the campus to continually evolve.

“We take an introspective look at what it is we can do to help student growth and insure our courses have vitality. We can take excellence and move excellence forward,” Dr. Ron Whitt, professor of speech communication, said.

To further bottom-up thinking, during the visitation, there will be an open meeting students can attend in Gardner Auditorium at 3:45 p.m. on April 3. The meeting will be led by the reviewers and will discuss what role students are playing in campus improvement.

Student Senate members who were involved in strategic planning will have an opportunity to speak. For students interested in the accreditation process, the meeting will be a chance to learn about AQIP and how WSC is implementing strategic planning to continue positive growth in campus culture.

“AQIP is here on our journey of continuous improvement. Sometimes an outside person can come in with different eyes and instantly pick up on something that needs improvement. We want to be improved,” Sydow said.