College students find hope during the semester in knowing that after four years of college, they can go directly into their dream careers. So what is it that gives degrees validity to future employers? It is the university’s accreditation that gives authenticity to its degrees and allows students to head into the workforce after graduation. This year the University of Nevada, Reno, is up for reaccreditation, a process which began Monday, Oct. 17.
UNR is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, an independent membership organization recognized by the Department of Education as the regional authority on educational quality and institutional effectiveness.
A university’s accreditation allows its students to receive financial aid and gives the university federal funds to support teaching and research.
According to NWCCU, accreditation is a self-regulatory process of quality assurance and institutional improvement. Accreditation recognizes higher-education institutions for their performance and quality to instill confidence in the community and public.
NWCCU accredits universities using a seven-year cycle. In the first year of the cycle, a university is evaluated based on its mission, core themes and expectations. In year three, an institution is evaluated on the resources it provides to students, faculty and staff. UNR is currently in the seventh year of the cycle. In the seventh year, universities are evaluated on how the university administration works to fulfill the institution’s mission, the university’s sustainability and adaptation.
“The seventh year is the biggest year where all aspects of the university’s performance will be reviewed,” said Joseph I. Cline, vice provost of undergraduate education and professor of chemistry. “They look at our curricula, they look at what students are learning in our programs, they will be looking at our policies for handling student complaints. All of these are considered important for having a quality institution.”
UNR has been an accredited institution since 1938 and has 20 professionally accredited programs.
After a university receives accreditation, its separate colleges and programs can receive accreditation. For example, the College of Education must receive accreditation to give graduates the ability to teach after receiving a diploma.
NWCCU began its evaluation Monday with a forum for undergraduate and graduate students to discuss their experience at UNR.
“I’ve had a great experience at this school,” said Jennifer Posey, an undergraduate student. “There is no doubt in my mind that we’ll be reaccredited because we offer so many amazing programs and services to students. It is really easy to complain about your professors and your classes, but when you step back and look at everything you’ve learned and gained here, it’s a lot.”
The Associated Students of the University of Nevada co-hosted the forum with the Graduate Student Association.
The forum is only a part of the reaccreditation review process. NWCCU will also be meeting with staff and faculty.
“They are going to be touring the university facilities, they will be talking with faculty, administrators, staff and students and they will be validating the information we’ve provided them,” Cline said. “They will be asking penetrating questions about how do we know Silver Core will work? Do students have enough mathematics? Those kinds of things.”
Cline said he has no doubt the university would receive reaccreditation, but if reviewers were not satisfied with the institution, it would be placed in a probationary status for a year in order to allow the institution to clean up its situation. If the reviewers were still not satisfied, Cline said a university would be required to close because students would not receive financial aid and the institution would not receive the federal grants for research. The university’s colleges and programs would also immediately lose their accreditation.
Several for-profit colleges have put their accreditation in jeopardy after being criticized for deceptive marketing practices. Colleges like the University of Phoenix have been put on probation, forcing the institution to focus on solving its problems in order to be reaccredited. According to a PBS report from 2015, critics say degrees from these for-profit institutions are not considered credible by employers or graduate programs.
“I believe firmly that we will be reaccredited,” Cline said. “I think we are doing a great job here at UNR, but we need to document it, and it is a helpful thing because they will look at us critically and will have recommendations. We are not perfect here, and that is information we can use to improve ourselves, and it is a process of continual introspection and improvement and making the university a special place.”