Portland State gets a check-up

It’s time for our 10-year check-up.


Portland State is preparing for re-accreditation, which in the higher education world is like going in for a physical.


First accredited in 1955, this is Portland State’s sixth time through the process. PSU has little to fear about not being re-accredited. Most likely, the process will just confirm PSU’s good standing.


“Accreditation is typically not in danger,” said Terrell Rhodes, vice provost for curriculum and undergraduate studies. Losing the designation means students are not eligible for federal financial aid.


“This gives every institution a chance to hear comments from a set of outside eyes. Hopefully, in the best of all worlds, they will have suggestions for us to improve.”


Universities and colleges voluntarily seek an independent, non-governmental review of their programs and facilities every 10 years. During the accreditation process, an institution submits a self-report to the commission and a team of university experts determines whether or not the institution is living up to minimum standards.


In PSU’s case, 13 out-of-state peers selected by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities are reviewing the self-study and will visit the university Oct. 24 ?” 26. The peers will meet with students, staff and faculty Oct. 24 and observe for themselves if PSU adheres to its mission, has adequate physical and information facilities, and is balancing its budget.


Accreditation confirms that a university is academically and financially sound, though the review is intended to be basic, Rhodes said. After campus visitors make their report to the NWCCU, the commission will simply announce an institution’s status. Comments will be issued privately to a university, which may choose to publicize them or not.


“They try to stay very general,” Rhodes said. “They say ‘all we really need to say is that a university complies with some baseline requirements.'”


The 13 visitors will likely examine Portland State’s budget crunch, Rhodes said. “I’m sure that will be something they’ll address – they’ll bemoan the state situation.” In turn, the commission’s comments on budget issues – such as recommendations for or against tuition hikes – can be passed on to policy makers in Salem.


Rhodes, who has served as a campus visitor himself, said the NWCCU chooses to keep the comments general and private to keep the reports from becoming a misused rating system. Since universities are only evaluated once every 10 years, comparisons between universities could be especially odious. With Oregon’s highly variable state budget, comparing one university’s financial situation in 2005 with another university’s in 1998 could grossly misrepresent relative financial stability.


“The commission doesn’t want to get into the business of comparing universities,” Rhodes said. “They don’t want this to be a ratings game.”


The commission’s kudos and recommendations, to be released to the university administration in January, will be more illustrative than a pass/fail of re-accreditation, Rhodes said.


“They won’t come to visit without finding things to both commend and recommend,” he said.


Universities pay to be reviewed. According to Dr. Peggy Arnold of the NWCCU, PSU pays $1,200 per campus visitor, meaning PSU will pay over $15,000 in visitor compensation. PSU pays for the guests’ housing, transportation and food as well as an annual membership fee to NWCCU.