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V6I2: Demystifying NWCCU’s Student Achievement Standards Part II


Gita Bangera, Senior Vice President, NWCCU

With the deployment of the 2020 Standards for Accreditation in January 2020, NWCCU has been engaged in supporting its member institutions to develop data-informed approaches to promote student success and close equity gaps.

The multipronged approach has included a number strategies, such as: workshops, webinars, and training to our institutions to develop skills and capacity to use data and benchmarking to compare against peers; articles in The Beacon on demystifying NWCCU Standards as related to institutional planning and governance, assessment, and student achievement; and development of data dashboards as decision support tools for peer evaluators and commissioners.

In the previous issue of The Beacon, Senior Vice President Ron Larsen discussed the “what” and the “how” of NWCCU’s Standard 1.D – the student achievement standard.

The focus of this article is on the “why,” (i.e., the rationale and intent behind Standard 1.D.).

Figure 1. Expected student achievement outcomes of meeting or exceeding NWCCU Standards 2, 1.B, and 1.C.

Standard 1.D is about fostering an institutional environment to promote student success and close achievement gaps informed by peer benchmarking. It requires that institutions demonstrably create the culture, environment, infrastructure, and practices to promote access, belonging, and success for all students.

The intent of Standard 1.D.1 is that the institution, consistent with its mission, recruits and admits students who would benefit from the programs being offered. The expectation is that the institution provides relevant and usable information regarding programs and requirements, their outcomes for students, debt that past students have incurred, and the earnings potential of graduates from those programs. This standard also ensures that once admitted, the institution provides the student with information for them to chart a clear path to success.

Standard 1.D.2 and 1.D.3 provide guidance for institutions to operationalize their commitment to ensuring success of all students and to specifically help mitigate equity gaps. This should be based on use of disaggregated, institutionally meaningful and publicized indicators, benchmarked against regional and national peer comparators.

Why indicators?

Student achievement is the culmination of the educational program offered by the institution, which meets or exceeds NWCCU Standards (Figure 1) and indicators of student achievement help the institution and NWCCU assess its mission fulfillment. The indicators of student achievement required by Standard 1.D highlight the core elements of institutional effectiveness and mission fulfillment. These indicators vary with the unique mission of each institution, however, there are some common indicators such as retention through courses or programs, transferring to another institution offering a four-year degree, earning a credential, or moving on to post-graduate employment or to graduate programs. For some students, indicators of success could also be successful licensure, the self-fulfillment of learning a skill for enjoyment, or up-skilling to receive a promotion or other advancement at work.

Why disaggregate?

Figure 2. Meeting or exceeding Standard 1.D promotes a cycle of continuous improvement by informing processes for Standards 1.B and 1.C.

Disaggregation allows the institution to visualize the success of all of its students and identify which groups of students are not served well by the current system, particularly marginalized or minoritized students based on characteristics such as, for example, race, ethnicity, age, gender, socioeconomic status, first generation college student, and any other institutionally meaningful categories. Not all institutions would have data on every characteristic or be able to disaggregate by all of these characteristics in a manner that protects student privacy, but it is critical that institutions disaggregate their data to the extent possible, aligned with their unique mission to help them identify equity gaps. By having a clear picture of which groups of students are not being served effectively, institutions can make evidenceinformed resource allocation decisions to support students that may be falling behind.

A second reason for disaggregation of the achievement data is transparency. Current and prospective students, faculty and staff, members of the public, and other stakeholders should be able to assess an institution’s capacity to support and educate students who come from various backgrounds. The requirement under Standard 1.D.3 to widely publish disaggregated data, including on the institution’s website, allows potential students and families to make informed decisions about enrolling at the institution (see Standard 1.D.1).

Why benchmark?

By benchmarking student success indicators against in-state and regional comparators, institutions identify peers who perform within similar constraints and learn from comparators that better support student success under those circumstances. Similarly, comparison with national peers helps to understand how other institutions with similar attributes, but functioning in a different geographical context, may have overcome similar problems. Benchmarking, therefore, is really a way to identify best practices to promote student success and achievement.

Standard 1.D requires NWCCU member institutions to self-assess their capacity to ensure student success as a measure of effectiveness of mission fulfillment, to share that assessment with current and prospective students and the general public, and to use the assessment data to inform resource allocation. NWCCU will continue to offer workshops and training to support institutions in their journey towards greater transparency and closing equity gaps.


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