Word that the University of Alaska Anchorage’s School of Education has lost its program-level accreditation tore across Southcentral Alaska like the Nov. 30 earthquake. And like that earthquake, the loss of program accreditation is both serious and a wake-up call that far more damage is possible unless underlying conditions are addressed.
This was no small failure. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation found UAA’s education program satisfied only one of the five standards necessary to remain accredited — and even the one standard satisfied came with notes about recommended improvements. It’s a top-to-bottom failure on UAA’s part that has students and community members rightly outraged.
How did it happen? According to the Council, UAA provided insufficient evidence that students were meeting required national standards related to teaching. The only good news for the school is that this doesn’t necessarily mean education students aren’t being properly prepared — it means UAA wasn’t able to show that they were. To resort to a gross simplification, imagine that your children’s high school teacher told you that your children were doing well in class, but when you asked about scores on homework and tests, the teacher couldn’t provide data to support that claim. The university’s accreditation process is far more involved and complex, of course, but the heart of the matter is the same: CAEP needed proof that UAA’s education students were satisfying requirements, and administrators couldn’t provide that proof to their satisfaction.
Where does that leave students? Essentially, in the lurch. Students currently enrolled in the program face the prospect of graduating with degrees that will not qualify them to teach. Fortunately, the state has said it will waive accreditation requirements for UAA education students who graduate this spring and summer and apply to teach in-state. But that is not only a short-term solution, it also only helps those who want to stay here. Those who planned to leave Alaska will have paid for a degree that will be of little value to them as they look to pursue their chosen profession. And those who are juniors, sophomores and first-year students in the program now have a tough choice: To soldier on and hope accreditation is restored before they graduate, to transfer to another school, or to change degrees and derail their future plans?
Fortunately, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Alaska Southeast are still accredited, so those willing to transfer will have the option of staying in-state. But the retention of accreditation by the university’s other campuses underscores the question: Why were UAA’s processes so deficient while UAF’s were sufficient to sail through the accreditation process? UA President Jim Johnsen and the Board of Regents owe the students a full, transparent accounting of the issues that led to UAA’s failure and see that they are corrected and that those responsible are held to account. Additionally, UAA must conduct a public audit of these processes in other departments, so all students can be confident their chosen degree isn’t also in jeopardy.
Above all, the university must ensure students harmed by this fiasco are made whole. That could mean free online classes from UAF or UAS, or quickly allowing a transfer to those schools to complete their degrees. It could mean a refund of their tuition if they choose to switch degree programs or leave the university altogether. Whatever UAA does, it must do right by its students, who enrolled in the education program in good faith, with the dream of becoming teachers — and now, through no fault of their own, see that dream in jeopardy.
The views expressed here are those of the Anchorage Daily News, as expressed by its editorial board, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. Current editorial board members are Ryan Binkley, Andy Pennington, Julia O’Malley, Tom Hewitt and Andrew Jensen. To submit a piece for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser.