By Tim Leeds
The College of Education at Montana State University-Northern is on the verge of earning its first national accreditation in the education department's long history.
A team from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education visited Northern's campuses in Havre and Great Falls Oct. 25-30 and gave it a positive review, said Darlene Sellers, dean of the College of Education.
"We were quite pleased with what they said," Sellers said today. "It was a very positive visit. They said our integration of technology was the best at any school they'd ever visited."
Northern Chancellor Alex Capdeville said it's a relief that the process is finally over.
"They've worked on this for a long time and it's important to the education program at all levels," he said.
The college's programs in both the undergraduate and graduate levels received positive reviews.
The official accreditation can't happen before March, the next time the council's accreditation board is scheduled to decide which colleges will receive accreditation, Sellers said. The board issues accreditation only twice a year.
The team writes a report about its visit and submits that to the accreditation board. Denial of accreditation to a college that has gotten a good review would be extremely unusual, Sellers said.
Northern received perfect reviews for program administration and in its assessment of students. The other areas reviewed needed minor changes, she said.
Northern has been seeking accreditation from the council for three years and revised some of its programs to meet state, national and professional standards, Sellers said. Beginning this year, state standards require that colleges must meet the standards of either of the two national accreditation organizations.
The first step was to develop a framework to guide how the college delivers its education and assesses the students. Then the team revising the programs focused on four major areas in the college for improvement diversity, theory and practice, assessment and technology, Sellers said.
The conceptual framework, which the college submitted to the council, is available on the council's Web site as a model for designing a framework.
Accreditation will give prospective employers assurance that the students have received an education that meets national standards.
"Any time you have a program that is nationally accredited it gives the students confidence," Sellers said.
She said she personally wouldn't consider getting a degree from a college that isn't accredited.
Capdeville said the university will use the accreditation as an incentive in recruitment.
"This is important when students go somewhere and look for a job in the field," he said.
Schools on the Hi-Line already have commented on the improvements in the program, especially the integration of technology in teaching, she said. Superintendents are telling her Northern's student teachers and graduates are providing a valuable resource for their schools, Sellers said.
"They're coming in with the cutting edge, things and skills and knowledge that are very helpful to the schools," she said.
The visit to review the program for education was originally scheduled for the fall of 2000, but it ran into a stumbling block. The deans of the College of Education and College of Arts and Sciences who were heading up the local accreditation effort, Korinne Tande and Steve Sylvester, resigned in the spring of 2000 and moved to other jobs.
"There was a slight hiccup with new people coming in and getting their feet on the ground," Sellers said.
The new team decided the effort had been on the right track and continued on that course, she added.
Jane Liebbrand, vice president for communications at the national council, said her organization can't make any comment on the visit until the accreditation board makes its decision in March. The board will look at all information, including a self-study conducted by Northern and comments submitted as well as the team's report, she said.
"When an institution is accredited by us it means it has met professional standards set by the field itself," she said.
A team of educators drafts standards every five years in the interest of improving teacher preparation, Liebbrand said.
This is the first time Northern has attempted to receive national accreditation. The Montana Legislature authorized Northern's bachelor of science degree in elementary education in 1954, although the college offered a two-year degree in education before that. Northern first opened in 1929.
The professors working on the accreditation process, both from the College of Education and the other colleges that provide classes for secondary education, as well the support of the administration, were what made the visit so successful, Sellers said.
"I think the faculty here at Northern is an exceptional team, a truly dedicated team of professionals," she said.
Losing the co-chairs of the process delayed receiving accreditation, but couldn't really stop it, Sellers added.
"It's kind of hard to stop something with that much momentum and that much excellence," she said.
On the net: National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, www.ncate.org/