Draft Policy on Graduate Education

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1 Draft Policy on Graduate Education Preface/Introduction Over the past two decades, the number and types of graduate programs have increased dramatically. In particular, the development of clinical master s and doctoral programs, often initiated by changes within the professions, has changed the landscape of higher education. More institutions, including former liberal arts colleges and state universities, have expanded their charters to offer both master s and doctoral programs. Over time, a lack of clarity about the purpose, desired learning outcomes, graduate competencies, curricula, admission and graduation requirements for graduate programs has increased. New forms of instructional delivery and the use of technology have increased the complexity and variability among programs. The purpose of this policy is to complement and inform the WASC Standards of Accreditation, providing more specific guidance about the expectations for quality in graduate programs and about the planning, development, and evaluation of those programs. Differentiation of Graduate Degrees Graduate education encompasses academic offerings above the baccalaureate level and includes master s, post-master s certificate, and doctoral programs. Degree requirements of the institution s graduate programs take into account specific program purposes. Learning objectives reflect a high level of complexity, generalization, and where appropriate, specialization. Master s degrees, post-master s certificates, and doctoral degrees may be research-oriented or professional or practice-oriented. An institution s graduate programs require scholarly and professional activities designed to advance the student substantially beyond the educational accomplishments of a baccalaureate degree program. Graduate programs, which encompass both research activities and professional practice, define their relative emphasis in program objectives that are reflected in curricular, scholarly, and program requirements. Research-oriented graduate programs are designed to prepare students for scholarly careers and research. They emphasize the acquisition, organization, utilization, and dissemination of knowledge. Research-oriented graduate programs provide students with substantial mastery of subject matter, theory, literature, and methodology of a field of study. They include development of research skills leading to the attainment of independent research capacity. In research-oriented doctoral programs, students undertake original research that contributes to new knowledge in the field of study. Disciplinary master s programs have many of the same objectives but require less sophisticated level of mastery of the chosen field of study than does the research doctorate. The disciplinary master s degree program provides a deep understanding of research appropriate to the discipline and the manner in which it is conducted. Professional or practice-oriented graduate programs are designed to prepare students for professional practice involving the application or transmission of existing knowledge or the development of new applications of knowledge within their field. Such programs enable the student to gain a broad conceptual mastery of the field of professional practice through an understanding of its subject matter, literature, theory, and methods. Graduate programs seek to develop students capacity to interpret, organize, and communicate knowledge and to build the analytical and professional skills needed to practice in and advance the profession. Instruction in relevant research methodology is provided, directed toward the appropriate application as a regular part of professional practice. Programs include the sequential development of professional skills that will result in competent practitioners. Where there is a hierarchy of degrees within an area of professional study, programs differ by level as reflected in the expected sophistication, knowledge, and capacity for leadership within the profession. Admission Requirements and Related Policies Admission requirements for graduate programs are designed to reflect and achieve the mission, values, and goals of the institution and to ensure that students have a reasonable opportunity of earning a degree. Accurate admissions information and knowledgeable staff should be widely available to prospective students. A careful

2 evaluation of each applicant s background, skills, and qualifications should be made to assess readiness to undertake and succeed in the program. A baccalaureate degree is normally required for admission to a graduate program. In those cases where a baccalaureate degree is not required, a clear rationale for this practice should be provided and evaluated. Admitted students should be qualified for advanced academic study. Qualifications should include competency in the language of instruction at a level appropriate to the program. (CFR 2.2b) Policies governing transfer of credit should be widely available to prospective students. The qualified administrator, faculty member, or committee responsible for making decisions about transfer credit, when it is allowed, should consider the following: the currency of the coursework being transferred, the equivalency of the course to the course for which transfer credit is sought, and the effect of the transfer on the integrity of the degree. A maximum of 25 percent of coursework required for the degree may be received as transfer credit in order to protect the coherence, meaning and integrity of the degree program. (CFR 2.14) Institutions may grant credit for prior experiential learning. A limit of 25 percent of credit may be earned in this manner. If such credit is granted, institutions should require that students demonstrate they have met the learning outcomes for any course in which such credit is awarded. The institution should provide an environment in which learning can thrive by identifying and supporting the needs of admitted students, particularly for students with identified needs or academic weaknesses. Student support services, including financial aid, registration, advising, career counseling, computer labs, disability services, and library information services, are designed to meet the needs of the specific types of students that the institution serves and to support modes of program delivery and the curricula. These services, reflective of the institution s mission, promote the inculcation of students into the norms and behaviors of the discipline by clearly communicating the students roles and responsibilities in the educational process. A guide or handbook should be published to give students an overview of policies and procedures of graduate programs. (CFR 2.13) Analysis of attrition and graduation rates should provide critical data on the admissions policies and student support practices, and these data should be used for planning and improving these policies and support services and addressing any concerns about retention, completion and time to completion. Particular attention should be paid to students identified as academically challenged during the admissions process. Where the institution does not provide support services, it should demonstrate that there is no need for a particular service or that the need is being met through alternative means. (CFRs 2.1, 2.2, ) Curriculum Graduate curricula should be clearly distinguishable from undergraduate offerings. Graduate-level courses should be at a higher level of sophistication with higher expectations for students than upper-division undergraduate courses. If upper-division and master s-level graduate courses are cross-listed, higher standards of performance should be expected for the graduate students enrolled in the course. Faculty and other academic leaders share responsibility for the curriculum, which should be cohesively designed with appropriate breadth and depth, sequencing of courses, and effective practice in the field that leads to high-level, focused learning. Learning outcomes should be developed for each course. A curriculum map showing course outcomes mapped to program outcomes helps to ensure that recursive learning with increasing levels of complexity occurs and that each course aligns with program and institutional goals. Outcomes should be appropriate to the level and degree type. Resources, such as a student handbook, describing curriculum offerings and policies unique to the graduate program, should be widely available. Graduate programs differ from undergraduate programs by requiring frequent engagement with professional practitioners and faculty, both inside and outside the classroom. The learning activities are more focused in content and purpose, and more intellectually demanding than activities designed for undergraduates. Graduate programs emphasize not only mastery, but deep comprehension, utilization, and synthesis of the subject matter, and generally, research degrees emphasize the creation of new knowledge. A culminating experience is a good practice for all graduate programs. Such experiences allow students to demonstrate synthesis and integration of knowledge and skills gained or created during the program. The culminating experience can take the form of any one or a mix of the following: thesis, special project, Page 2 of 5

3 dissertation, capstone, portfolio, comprehensive examination, clinical experience, service projects, and/or oral defense of the work. The program should provide guidelines and support for the smooth completion of this final academic experience. The curriculum must be monitored regularly to ensure the integrity and effectiveness of the program. Assessment results inform improvements in curriculum, pedagogy, instructional resources, assessment of learning outcomes, and student services. Assessment activities or program review should involve different constituencies including alumni, employers, students, faculty and administrators. Policies and procedures must be in place for adding, changing or discontinuing courses and programs. (CFRs , 4.4, ) Resources/Infrastructure Institutions offering graduate and professional programs should have systems in place to support graduate student learning and professional development, and the advancement of knowledge. Among the elements that might be expected include policies and standards on ethics in the profession and/or the discipline and researchrelated policy; policies and procedures relating to matriculation, academic standards, and progress towards degree; student services appropriate to the nature and the level of the program; and a system for faculty and academic oversight and policies on faculty workload. Appropriate infrastructure to support faculty and student learning, research and/or professional practice are expected. Depending on the discipline or profession, physical resources might include clinical facilities, arrangements and affiliations (MOUs) with outside facilities, classrooms and meeting space, technological resources, and support for any online equivalents. In addition, policies that ensure the quality of the clinical programs and off-campus practica are expected, along with appropriate administrative support. Graduate programs require current and relevant library and information resources appropriate to the degree levels offered. Graduate institutions need to assure appropriate faculty and student access to materials required to support the curriculum and training. Library and information resources should be readily accessible. Institutions should establish standards and expectations for information literacy at the graduate level. Basic information literacy, a core competency in CFR 2.2a, should be expected upon admission to a graduate school. Values, skills, and attitudes of the discipline necessarily include the advancement of information literacy skills. (CFRs 2.1, 2.2, 2.8, 2.9, ) Graduate Culture Graduate culture is an environment that provides support for inquiry, scholarship, and research and/or professional practice. Creating this environment requires library and technology support that will sustain research appropriate to the degree level and includes high expectations for student scholarship, evidence-based practice, and/or independent research, and engagement with faculty. Graduate culture often encompasses outof-class learning that may include mentoring, campus speakers, colloquia, practicum experiences, conference participation, and the opportunity to share scholarship in publications or public forums. An effective graduate culture prepares students to enter a field through exposure to the values, skills, attitudes and essential content knowledge of the discipline or profession. There are different ways of knowing in specific fields and different ways that people collaborate, depending upon the field or profession. Whatever the distinctive characteristics of the field, institutions should be able to provide evidence of how graduate and professional programs foster collaboration between students, between students and faculty and between students and professionals in the field. Programs should also be able to demonstrate how students advance their knowledge and develop professional skills and values. (CFR 2.2b, 2.8, 2.9) Sufficiency of Faculty, Faculty Roles and Responsibilities, and Faculty Qualifications Institutions offering graduate degrees should have an adequate staff of full-time faculty in areas appropriate to the degree offered. Faculty responsible for graduate programs should be sufficient in terms of credentials, experience, number, time commitment and workload for the successful accomplishment of program objectives and program improvement. A preponderance of faculty should have academic qualifications at least one Page 3 of 5

4 degree level higher than the program s degree level (or have appropriate post-graduate training, certification, clinical residency or specialization). Graduate faculty should exert collective responsibility for development and evaluation of the curriculum, academic policies, and students. The scholarly expectations of faculty exceed those expected for faculty working at the undergraduate level. Research-oriented graduate programs should have a preponderance of active research scholars on their faculty. Professionally oriented programs employ faculty members who are experienced professionals, making scholarly contributions to the development of the field. (CFRs 2.1, 2.4, , 3.11) Student Achievement Graduate programs should be committed to student learning and success, and the program s structures and activities should be designed to achieve this commitment. This commitment is demonstrated by investing in appropriate support services, materials, and equipment and providing the staff that can operate and maintain these resources. Student success is defined as the achievement of learning outcomes, timely completion of programmatic requirements and earning the degree, and the scholarly output and other achievements of graduates. Graduate programs should measure the aforementioned outputs of student success and publish valid documentation of these data. (CFRs 2.6, 2.10) Retention and Graduation Rates Graduate programs should collect and review data on student enrollment, persistence, and graduation rates and other measures of success appropriate to institutional mission. Data should be disaggregated for various subpopulations of students, including gender and racial-ethnic groups and any other group that is specifically recruited or might be considered academically vulnerable. Analysis of rates should be used in evaluating and refining the recruitment, curriculum, pedagogy, and student support services. Data on graduation and retention rates should be made widely available. The graduate program should develop a narrative that describes its time-to-degree and how it compares to normative (or national) time-to-degree data. A group of like or aspirational institutions should be defined and these data should be shared. (CFRs 2.6, 2.10, 2.12) Assessment of Student Learning/Graduation Proficiencies It is important to indicate how assessment of student learning will be conducted and measured. Procedures for evaluating the extent to which course goals and objectives are achieved should be developed collectively by the faculty. Formative assessment of knowledge and skills should be an explicit and intentional part of each graduate course. This includes meaningful feedback that informs students about progress toward achieving the intended learning outcome(s) at regular intervals throughout the program. Examples of artifacts that provide direct evidence of student learning include: in-class discussions and projects, case presentations, written exams, publications, culminating experience, licensure exams, and supervisory meetings/conferences. Summative assessment at the end of a course, at regular intervals throughout the program, and at the conclusion of the program should be conducted to determine the student s achievement of learning outcomes and the award of course credit(s) or degree. (CFRs ) Career Placement and Related Indicators of Achievement. Graduate programs should collect, analyze, act on, and publish placement and other data on success after graduation. The institution may rely on existing resources and infrastructure such as an alumni or development office to assist with this assessment. (CFRs 2.6, ) Assessment and Program Review. Regular program review is required and should be conducted by program faculty and administration to assess academic components and program quality, currency and effectiveness. Specialized accreditation alone is not a substitute for program review unless this process aligns with the requirements for program review content and use set forth in the Standards of Accreditation. Plans for systematic self-study should be in place and include a mechanism for evaluating each program component and the schedule on which the evaluations are conducted. Results of assessment of student learning should be a Page 4 of 5

5 critical element of the reviews. Other mechanisms of assessment could include student exit interviews, publications, alumni surveys, clinical supervisor evaluations, and employer satisfaction surveys. Program review should lead to improvements and be aligned with planning and budgeting processes. (CFRs 2.7, 4.1, 4.4) Approved for circulation to the region for comment February 24, 2012 Page 5 of 5

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