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Naval Postgraduate School Earns Landmark Second Consecutive Ten-Year WASC Reaccreditation

Article By: Barbara Honegger

NPS’ Western Association of Schools and Colleges Planning Group celebrates the university’s receipt of the maximum ten-year reaccreditation, for the second consecutive term. The group, from left to right, are: Co-Chair and Professor of Operations Research, Dr. Rob Dell; Co-Chair and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Doug Moses; Vice President for Information Resources and Chief Information Officer, Dr. Christine Haska; Director of Institutional Planning and Communications and Accreditation Liaison Officer, Dr. Fran Horvath; Professor of Systems Engineering, Dr. Dave Olwell; and University Librarian, Eleanor Uhlinger. Not shown: Vice President for Finance and Administration Colleen Nickles. Also, Professor of National Security Affairs, Dr. Dan Moran, served as faculty co-chair in the early phases of the review.

The Naval Postgraduate School just received the highest possible ten-year reaccreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), for the second consecutive term.

In his letter of March 7, notifying NPS President Dan Oliver of the maximum reaccreditation, WASC President Ralph A. Wolff said the visiting team remarked the school was “a model for others” in mapping coursework to program learning outcomes, conducting and supporting rigorous and robust program and curriculum reviews, and utilizing direct measures of student learning. “In taking this action to reaffirm accreditation, the Commission confirms that the Naval Postgraduate School has satisfactorily addressed the Core Commitments to Institutional Capacity and Educational Effectiveness, and has successfully completed the three-stage review conducted under the Standards of Accreditation.”

The decision letter noted that “NPS has been energized under strong leadership,” leadership whose importance for the accreditation Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead noted in his keynote address at Winter 2011 graduation ceremonies, Mar. 25.

“The Naval Postgraduate School is a unique institution among our elite schools whose twin objectives of cutting-edge, actionable research and pertinent instruction by a renowned faculty stand as a challenge to other great institutions,” Roughead said. “Its strength comes from security professionals from all over the world in many different fields converging here to study business, engineering, policy, computer science and many other disciplines with an eye towards their application to our common goals. President Oliver’s dedication to building that strength has just been aptly demonstrated by his having led the school as a whole to a highly-uncommon, ten-year accreditation.”

“NPS’ leadership, especially the President and Provost, should be praised for setting the tone that this is an important campus-wide effort,” said Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Doug Moses, co-chair of the WASC Planning Group and chair of the Educational Effectiveness Review team.

“This second consecutive ten-year reaccreditation is a strong endorsement for the high quality of our academic programs and the dedication and effectiveness of our faculty. Everyone should interpret the fact that we’ve received the whole 10 years as recognition of how really good we are.”

Oliver, in turn, thanked and praised the entire NPS community.

“I want everyone to know how proud I am to be here and to have been part of the team that worked so hard to earn this highest possible ten-year WASC reaccreditation," Oliver said. "It was a true All Hands effort – an all-inclusive win – involving all of the campus community. It's both a great achievement and recognition that we've met the exacting WASC accreditation criteria with flying colors. It is a wonderful accomplishment, not only because it is essential for us to be able to grant degrees, but because of the superb effort by everyone who worked to make our case over these past four years. And it is a gratifying acknowledgment by our higher education peers of NPS’ outstanding academic quality.”

That external peer review process included in depth visits and assessments by a Capacity and Preparedness Review team and an Educational Effectiveness Review team, together consisting of two university presidents, two experts on educational effectiveness, a professor of electrical engineering, and a university vice president for finance and administration.

Overseeing and shepherding the four-year reaccreditation effort was the WASC Planning Group composed of co-chairs Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Doug Moses and Professor of Operations Research Dr. Rob Dell; Vice President for Information Resources and Chief Information Officer Dr. Christine Haska; Director of Institutional Planning and Communications and Accreditation Liaison Officer Dr. Fran Horvath; Vice President for Finance and Administration Colleen Nickels; University Librarian Eleanor Uhlinger; and Professor of Systems Engineering Dr. Dave Olwell. Professor of National Security Affairs Dan Moran served as faculty co-chair in the early phases of the review.

“The WASC Planning Group was the heart and soul of the process, a team of immensely dedicated individuals who kept a continuous, rigorous and systematic self-review process moving for four years, on top of their regular duties,” said Horvath.

“This is a tremendous achievement for the Naval Postgraduate School – not many schools get the full ten years,” Horvath stressed. “It’s a strong reaffirmation that we have been and are on the right track, that we truly have been dedicated to continuous improvement and that this has been recognized by our regional reviewing agency who are top professionals in their field.”

“We should be very proud of this ten-year accreditation,” agreed Dell. “It’s a recognition, after an external review process by a group of our peers, that we really care about providing high-quality academic programs and instruction to our students and that we have the robust means to provide that.”

Members of the Planning Group reflected on why the outcome was so successful.

“One thing the commission really noticed and appreciated was that we took the spirit of what WASC intended as an opportunity for genuine self-reflection and improvement in every aspect of the university,” Horvath stressed. “But the core of the success was the fantastic effort by a huge and constantly changing campus-wide team. We made it an open process that involved as many people as possible. There was substantial input by faculty and staff, and the students were a real asset, as they always are. Together, we moved forward until we got it done, and pulled off a fantastic achievement.”

“The major reason for the success, in my opinion, is the degree to which NPS embraced and leveraged the WASC reaccreditation process as a framework to encourage real change across campus,” Moses agreed. “We were also successful because of the special culture here at NPS. We had a strong culture of self-evaluation, even before the process began, where we’re highly attuned to our sponsors. Our natural way of operating is that we’re continually asking if we’re providing high-quality, military-relevant programs for our Navy and broader defense community sponsors.”

“A big advantage that sets us apart from most other universities is the every-two-year curriculum review process required by law that’s already in place,” added Dell. “We succeeded because WASC recognized we really do care about quality education, because we recognize the uniqueness of our student body, and because we all take our jobs very seriously. All along our philosophy was that we were going to make changes because it’s a good thing and the right thing to do.”

“In the Institutional Proposal, we set goals for ourselves in three major theme areas that drove the internal review process and systemic change: Strategic Planning for the Next Century, Integrating a Campus-wide Program of Improvements, and Supporting an Evolving Academic Enterprise,” Moses noted. “This was hard work, a major campus-wide self-evaluation endeavor over a number of years. We had to change the behavior of the departments and schools and get them on board to engage in and support the review and self evaluation of our educational processes. It’s tough to get buy-in for that kind of internal review and change, and the faculty stepped up to the plate and did a great job.”

“The original idea and history of accreditation began with the GI Bill, as the government wanted to be sure it was spending the taxpayers’ money well,” Dell explained. “Since then, by law we’ve been required to be accredited to be able to grant degrees. This is more important for NPS and the military academies than for other educational institutions, because here the government isn’t just paying for students’ tuition and faculty salaries, but also students’ living expenses.”

As for the future, Moses emphasized that the ten-year reaccreditation “is not an ending, it’s the beginning of the next phase of a continuous process. The process has already set expectations by both WASC and ourselves that we can strive to meet in the next decade, and that provide the motivation to continue and even better this outstanding track record of improvement.”

The next WASC Capacity and Preparatory Review is scheduled for Fall 2020, and the Educational Effectiveness Review for Spring 2022.

“An Interim Report is due in March 2014,” said Horvath, “and then we begin the process again.”

Posted April 5, 2011

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