Since 1913, Carleton College has been accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA). The process includes a self-study and an on-site review by the NCA. As the status needs to be renewed every 10 years, Carleton has already begun preparing for the next review, scheduled for January 2009. In the fall of 2007, Carleton began holding campus-wide surveys and discussions in order to get feedback from as many different members of the Carleton community as possible. All members of the college were encouraged to participate and share their views regarding the extent to which the college fulfils the criteria set out by the NCA for successful renewal of accreditation.
Eva Posfay, Associate Dean of the College and Professor of French, heads the Steering Committee and believes that over the past few months the college has received “valuable information” not just from faculty and students, but also staff and alumni. “Over the past decade, there has been a greater focus on learning outside of the classroom. There has been an increased awareness that people like a student’s work supervisor or his or her Hall Director contribute immensely to the learning process at college too,” she says. The emphasis on involving as wide a range of the college community as possible is a move that reflects this change in the understanding of what “learning” really means.
To fulfill the self-study, the college needs to fulfill the five criteria set up by the NCA and has to convincingly prove this to the NCA committee during the on-site review in January. These include “Mission and Integrity,” “Preparing for the Future,” “Student Learning and Effective Teaching”, “Acquisition and Application of Knowledge” and finally, “Engagement and Service.” To this end, five sub-committees have been set up to focus on a criterion each. “What we have found is that we really do have very dedicated teachers and scholars” says Posfay, “which is reassuring.” Last fall, five different focus groups were set up, each of which had different simultaneous discussions. For the first three focus groups, members of the college community were invited based on a random sampling of students, faculty and staff members. For the last two sessions, all members of the community were encouraged to participate and offer their opinions and suggestions. “We wanted to see if the conclusions we had arrived at during our self-study study matched which the evaluation of other members of the college community, and we discovered that it did.”
A draft of the self-study report is now available to students on the Carleton website until 9 a.m. on February 11, after which it will be disabled. Posfay emphasized the need for greater student participation and encourages all students to provide their suggestions to the accreditation committees. After receiving and considering all the comments received by students, faculty and staff, the Accreditation Committees will seek to refine the self-study report and by Spring Term this year, they will tentatively have a final version of the report ready. In September, a few amendments will be made if necessary and finally, the report will be presented to the NCA in January next year. “We have a great culture of people trying to improve,” Posfay said. While the self-study is essential for renewed accreditation with guarantees of federal money for the college, it is also part of the college’s commitment to the highest standards of excellence possible. “This is a different era of evaluation,” Posfay added. “Ten years ago, it was enough to have a certain set of goals. Now, it has become necessary to prove that students are, in fact, learning. We have to present our results in a way that is convincing.”