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V6I1: Demystifying NWCCU’s Student Achievement Standards


Ron Larsen, Senior Vice President, NWCCU

In March 2023, NWCCU’s Executive Vice President Selena Grace introduced the first in our series on demystifying NWCCU Standards for Accreditation with her article on Standards 1.B related to Institutional Planning and Governance Institutional Effectiveness. Senior Vice President Ed Harri addressed the Assessment Standards (1.C.5 – 1.C.7) in his article in July. In this issue of The Beacon, we focus on Standards 1.D, the Student Achievement Standards.

Standards on Student Achievement: Student Centered-Data Informed

The 2020 Standards for Accreditation were approved overwhelmingly by our institutions. With the adoption of these Standards, our institutions committed themselves to use disaggregated data to develop effective strategies to help all students achieve their educational goals. Since the 2020 Standards for Accreditation were implemented, we have seen our institutions make steady progress on the Student Achievement Standards and look forward to continued progress in coming years.

Here are the essential elements of the Student Achievement Standards:

  • All institutions must identify regional and national peers (1.D.2).
  • All institutions must publish on their websites disaggregated student achievement data, benchmarked against regional and national peers (1.D.3).
  • Disaggregation should include race, ethnicity, age, gender, socioeconomic status, first generation college student (1.D.3).
  • Disaggregated data should be used to identify equity gaps (1.D.4).
  • Data collection and analysis processes should be transparent (1.D.4).

Note: NWCCU is working on training materials related to identification of peers and data disaggregation. Watch for more information on this in coming months.

Some aspects of the student achievement measures are new, and we recognize that it will take some time for all of our member institutions to be able to develop the data and assessment processes necessary to implement what is required under these Standards. We have seen significant progress in the way some of our member institutions are developing data sets. We look forward to seeing the various ways member institutions are identifying and closing equity gaps.

NWCCU’s Approach to Eliminating Equity Gaps

NWCCU is using a multi-step approach that focuses on (1) identifying peers, (2) collecting disaggregated data, (3) identifying equity gaps, and (4) developing ways to address the equity gaps – including planning and allocation of necessary resources.

Our approach is not to be prescriptive. NWCCU will not:

  • Specify which institutions should be included in a peer group.
  • Specify what additional data must be collected and published (beyond the student achievement metrics indicated in 1.D.2).
  • Mandate a specific plan or strategy to address gaps.

This approach is intended to allow our institutions to use their own creativity and planning to help all of their students achieve success. These unique approaches are often mission driven and, therefore, unique to the institution and the students and communities they serve.

Accountability for Student Achievement

NWCCU will hold institutions accountable to meet the Student Achievement Standards.

Each institution will need to develop at least one set of peer institutions that will include both regional and national peers (1.D.2).

  • Institutions are allowed to have more than one set of peer institutions, and those peer groups can be used for different purposes. For example, your institution might have a set of institutions that are similar to how your institution currently operates, and another aspirational peer group of institutions that are comparable to the type of institution that your institution hopes to become. Or, your institution might be designed to deliver a particular discipline via distance education, and you may need one peer group for the disciplinary aspects, and another for the distance delivery aspects of your mission.
  • You may want to use separate peer groups for intra-state and national peer comparisons. There are some very good intra-state data sources for some groups of institutions, and using these data sources will allow deep comparisons between institutions in the group. NWCCU views regional peers as being outside of the state of your institution, but within the Pacific Northwest region. (This will have to be revisited as Bryan University in Arizona joins NWCCU!) In addition, using national peers will help institutions identify best practices across the country. We recognize that IPEDS may be the common data set for national peers, with all the limitations that come with IPEDS data. The goal is to learn from both peer comparison groups.
  • One of the primary goals of peer comparison is to identify institutions that are doing better in a particular area, with the goal of identifying best practices that might help your institution make progress in the area. Peer comparison over time is useful to monitor your institution’s performance to (a) see where you are improving, and (b) see where you might be falling behind.
  • NWCCU evaluators will want to review the selection of peer comparators and the rationale for selecting the same.

Each institution must collect and publish on their website data on persistence, completion, retention, and post-graduation success, disaggregated by race, ethnicity, age, gender, socioeconomic status, first generation college student (1.D.2, 1.D.3).

  • The data and disaggregation listed in the Standard are intended to be the start of the analysis process, not the end. We strongly encourage our institutions to go beyond these requirements to identify unique measures appropriate to your institutional mission and unique student demographics.
  • The data set used at an institution for identifying potential equity gaps may be more extensive than the public-facing data set required under the Standard. This is particularly important when dealing with small groups of students (the “small N” problem). An institution cannot publish grouped data when the small number of data values means individual identities can be reasonably inferred. But institutions should be careful not to overlook groups with unique needs simply because they are small in numbers.
  • NWCCU evaluators will want to see all the data being used to look for potential equity gaps, including data that is not on the public-facing website.

Each institution must evaluate their student achievement data, including comparing their results with their peer comparators, for equity gaps (1.D.3).

  • NWCCU evaluators will want to see how the data is being used to inform planning, decision making, and allocation of resources, how institutional data is being benchmarked against the peer group, and the conclusions being drawn from the data by the institution.

Each institution must develop and implement strategies and allocate resources to address the identified equity gaps. The processes and methodologies for collecting and analyzing indicators of student achievement must be transparent (1.D.4).

  • NWCCU evaluators will want to see evidence of the development and implementation of these strategies, and allocation of resources – and that the processes and methodologies used by the institution are transparent.
  • Each institution should monitor the effectiveness of their strategies to address the identified equity gaps.
  • NWCCU evaluators will want to see evidence that the strategies are being implemented and resourced, and the success or lack thereof is being monitored and the strategy adjusted as needed.


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