It’s not yet decided whether the University of Alaska Anchorage will reapply for accreditation for its seven teacher preparation programs that recently lost the approval of a national oversight body, according to the president of the state’s public university system.
It would take at least three years to gain re-accreditation and the process would consume significant time and resources, UA President Jim Johnsen told the state Senate Education Committee Tuesday morning.
Accreditation is crucial for Alaska’s teacher preparation programs. Alaska regulations require the programs have national accreditation or “substantially meet” the standards to get state approval, and the programs need that approval for their graduates to get Alaska teacher certificates.
The University of Alaska Board of Regents will ultimately decide whether UAA reapplies for the accreditation through the national Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.
“This is an important decision to be made at the university,” Johnsen told the senators.
“If the decision is made not to reapply, we do have two fully accredited and approved programs that are capable of providing the education to UAA students in UAA,” he said, referring to the programs at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau.
The five senators at Tuesday’s meetings questioned Johnsen and other education officials about the UAA programs' loss of accreditation: How did the university get here, what does it mean for students and what’s next?
Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, told Johnsen that not pursuing re-accreditation would send the wrong message, one that says education and graduating teachers is not a priority.
“I really hope that you reconsider, as an entity, the thought that we wouldn’t pursue accreditation,” he said.
Johnsen has previously set an ambitious goal that 90 percent of all new teacher hires in Alaska will have graduated from the University of Alaska system — including UAA, UAF and UAS — by 2025.
On Jan. 11, UAA announced that the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation had revoked accreditation for its School of Education’s “initial licensure programs,” the programs for people working toward their initial teacher certificate.
There are roughly 330 students enrolled in the affected programs this semester, a UAA spokeswoman said on Tuesday, more than the 250 originally reported. The accreditation issue, however, could affect up to 475 students, she said.
Approximately 40 students are expected to graduate from the affected UAA programs this spring and summer. The Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development granted an exception for those students on Monday: Despite the loss of accreditation, they will still be considered graduates from a “state-approved program.”
The UA Board of Regents and university leadership are currently considering mid- and long-term options to move forward, Johnsen told senators.
There are a series of meetings scheduled: Regents will meet with UAA education students on Feb. 12 in Anchorage. They’ll hold a statewide public call-in on Feb. 19, during which people can testify on issues, including accreditation. A UA regent committee is meeting on Feb. 21 to discuss the accreditation issue, followed by a board meeting on Feb. 28.
In the meantime, university officials are ensuring that UAA students who want to transfer have full access to UAF and UAS, Johnsen said. The students can move their credits to one of those universities, but remain in Anchorage. They won’t be charged for transfer costs, he said.
Among the questions Tuesday, senators attempted to drill down on when education officials first learned UAA’s teacher preparation programs might be in trouble.
James Fields, chair of the state board of education, said he “informally” heard about potential accreditation issues sometime in June or July.
“There was informal communication about, ‘Yeah, it didn’t look good’ and, of course, at that point no action really could be taken other than we have to wait and see what the actual formal document was.”
Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, asked: “At the time it was informal, was there any public discussion of it at any point?”
Fields said no.
According to a timeline presented by Johnsen, UAA submitted its self-study report to the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, or CAEP, in August 2017. CAEP provided feedback to UAA in December.
In April 2018, CAEP officials started a three-day site visit at UAA. A report from the site visit was made available to UAA in June. In November, UAA was notified to expect a final decision in December. It got that decision on Jan. 11. The programs failed to meet four out of five standards.
Senate Majority Leader Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, asked Johnsen if he had any indication that the UAA programs would lose accreditation.
“It did catch me by surprise,” Johnsen said.
“I did understand that it wasn’t a slam dunk," he said, "but I was under the impression that we would likely succeed, but, again, there were issues that were raised. I was not specifically aware of specific problems. I had not been provided the self report or any of the data, we’re just now seeing that information literally within the last week.”