Do you know what accreditation is?The question hangs in the air as a look of confusion and bewilderment clouds the face of Keri Dewitt, a junior business management student.
“I think that’s when colleges work together so credits transfer. I think. I don’t know.”
Freshman Tori Fearon had a similar confused look.
“I don’t really know, but I know that if a college isn’t then it shuts down.”
Accreditation, according to Academic Dean Joe Mark, is “like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval” for an institution.
“It tells students that we meet the standards and are worthy of receiving financial aid,” Mark said.
This November, Castleton will be assessed by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) who will determine if Castleton will be re-accredited.
Right now faculty and administrators are working to prepare for the arrival of a team of evaluators.
Preparations include writing a self-study report, according to Mark, who is one of the many administrators involved in the process. The study will be presented to the visiting team. From the school’s report and by observing the college, the team will deliver its findings in a report to NEASC, presented in a report that will decide Castleton’s fate: accreditation extended or not.
The report covers 11 standards set by NEASC: Mission and Purpose, Planning and Evaluation, Organization and Governance, Academic Programs, faculty, Students, Library and other information resources, physical and technological resources, financial aid, public disclosure and integrity.
“It’s an opportunity for self reflecting and improvement,” Mark said.
It is also important to be as honest as possible to give the team a clear picture of what Castleton is, school officials said.
“It’s important for the institution to be as transparent as possible,” said Ana Alexander, a Spanish Professor at Castleton, who is a co-chair for the committee charged with covering standard six, students. “We have nothing to hide and a lot to show.”
Alexander isn’t worried about the re-accreditation of the college saying the school doesn’t need NEASC to motivate action.
“Regardless of the standards, we want to know we are doing a good job,” she said. “Accreditation is a way to do that, but Castleton is already on track. There’s a good vibe at the college.”
Ten years ago during the college’s last accreditation review, the school’s debt was an area highlighted for attention.
“We’ve increased our debt since the last review,” Mark said. “We’ve made a calculated choice. If we’re to remain competitive, we need to improve our programs and our grounds. We have to show them that we made the right decision.”
Other important projections Mark sees as possible ways to deal with the financial health of the school are increasing graduate programs and finding alternative revenue activities that can be held when students are not on campus. These are ways to increase revenue without increasing the undergraduate enrollment over the college’s self-imposed limit.
Mark’s hope is the drafting committees do an accurate and thorough job.
“The self-study should speak for the whole community,” Mark said. “Not everyone is involved in writing it, but they should be able to pick it up, read a chapter and say ‘This is Castleton, they got it right.'”
He said he also hopes students will take an interest and help fill in areas that are covered or inaccurate representations. But since the topic is so dry it’s hard to get students involved.
“Usually, when you say the word accreditation, their eyes glaze over. We have to hit people over the head with it,” said Mark. “Do you care if your financial aid is taken away if the college isn’t accredited? Or if your resume is sent to the bottom of the pile because employers don’t trust institutions that aren’t accredited?”
A gala is planned for students on March 15 to inform them and display the self-study.