The University of Arizona is in the process of receiving accreditation from a new agency, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College & University Commission.
Commission officials are expected to visit the Tucson campus between January 17 and 20. Thereafter, WSCUC will review UA’s application for approval, likely at its scheduled meeting in February.
Since 1917, UA has been accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, which also oversees the accreditation of Pima Community College, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University.
The HLC confirmed UA’s accreditation in the 2020-21 academic year and has not scheduled another full review until 2030. However, UA’s 2020 acquisition of Ashford University, a troubled for-profit online college, has for the first time suspended UA from WSCUC, the accrediting agency to which it is currently applying.
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WSCUC accredits more than 200 colleges and universities, including all institutions in the University of California system.
When UA bought Ashford, the online school’s accreditor, WSCUC, had, among other things, already issued a statement about concerns about low graduation and retention rates. Early last year, after UA renamed the school the nonprofit University of Arizona Global Campus, UA announced plans to fully integrate the approximately 28,000 students then enrolled at the UA Global Campus into its operations.
Shortly after this announcement, WSCUC released a report acknowledging some improvements in UAGC. Nonetheless, it continued to raise concerns until 2023, at which time it will reassess the school’s problems.
Last month, the US Department of Education approved UA’s request to switch accreditors, allowing the school to proceed with its application to WSCUC.
That same week, the Arizona Board of Regents approved $75,000 in incentives for UA President Robert Robbins — who has faced internal and external criticism over the UAGC deal — if he improves student outcomes and the UAGC through June 2023 brings under the full oversight of UA.
The UA has not widely publicized its intention to change accreditors.
But when the Arizona Daily Star asked how its involvement with the UAGC influenced its decision to seek a new accreditor, a spokesman directed the newspaper to a website that answers frequently asked questions about the move.
“Through its affiliation with UAGC (accredited by WSCUC), UArizona has experienced firsthand WSCUC’s collaborative and thorough approach to accreditation and working with its accredited institutions to address concerns and pursue innovative opportunities,” the website reads.
It continued, “Following initial discussions with HLC about UArizona’s innovative and access-expanding strategy to acquire UAGC and related discussions with WSCUC about the support and guidance they provide as their institutions seek new and more effective and efficient avenues, to serve students, communities and the nation,” the UA stated, “that the best course of action for UArizona is to switch accreditors from HLC to WSCUC.”
The webpage on the accreditation process also states that “a diverse group of campus colleagues, including the joint governance faculty, supported the effort.”
While Arizona law requires shared governance with faculty in developing university policy, numerous faculty members have criticized the UA administration for not adequately involving them in decision-making over the years, including the UAGC deal.
“All I can do is express the hope that we will have meaningful, transparent, and deep conversations (when WSCUC is in attendance),” said Leila Hudson, faculty chair. “Not just about the things that are going well at the university, but also about very serious concerns from faculty and others about shared governance.”
Kathryn Palmer reports on higher education for the Arizona Daily Star. Contact her via email at [email protected] or at her new phone number 520-496-9010.