Loss of accreditation leaves UAA students unsure about getting teaching licenses

UAA School of Education Interim Director Claudia Dybdahl (left) speaks with over 60 College of Education students about the future of the department. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Two-hundred-fifty students in teaching programs at the University of Alaska Anchorage are wondering if they’ll qualify for teaching licenses when they graduate. That’s because UAA’s education program lost its national accreditation late last week. The news has left the university scrambling to come up with a plan and students with a lot of unanswered questions.

UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen and School of Education Interim Director Claudia Dybdahl discussed the future of the education department with about 60 students packed into a classroom Monday at UAA — even more crowded outside the door or listened to a livestream.

“You’re asking us to believe in you and what we’re doing in this program, and yet, it’s not there,” said Keith Boswell, one of the students at the meeting.

Boswell says he found out about the loss of accreditation from the news and not from the university. Dybdahl says that the university was only informed on Friday that its national accreditation had been revoked.

UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen (left) and School of Education Interim Director Claudia Dybdahl talk to reporters about UAA’s education department losing its initial licensure national accreditation. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Without accreditation, the state of Alaska will not grant teaching licenses to graduates of UAA’s education department. Those include licenses for bachelors degrees in Early Childhood and Elementary Education as well as master’s degrees in Secondary Education. It also includes licenses for special education teachers.

Dybdahl says the department was blind-sided by the news.

“We were very surprised at this,” Dybdahl said. “We thought that we would be accredited. That was our expectation.”

The agency that issues the accreditation is called the Council for the Accreditation of Education Preparation, or CAEP. Dybdahl says that CAEP is a pretty new accreditation agency, and in their review of the university, they focused most of their attention on assessments and data. She says that is where the University fell short.

“We didn’t really have enough data, consistent data and analysis of data to meet their criteria,” Dybdahl said.

The earliest UAA can reapply for accreditation is January 2020. The process for this review took two years, but Sandeen says the process may be expedited due to the university’s situation.

In the meantime, university officials will meet with the state board of education to discuss waiving the national accreditation requirements for UAA students — citing progress they have made since the review ended last year.

“We will find out the answer on the licensure issue hopefully within the next couple of weeks,” Chancellor Sandeen said. “So we know that is important. We need to get that information to our students as quickly as possible.”

Sandeen says she hopes the state will agree to recognize UAA grads as meeting license requirements. The board could also decide UAA cannot admit any new students to its education programs, but current students could finish their schooling. If the board says no to both options, she says the University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Alaska Southeast both still have accredited education departments.

Kelsey Hernandez plans on graduating in May with a degree in early childhood education. She was frustrated by the answers she heard at the forum.

“So, now that we are at the finish line for so many students, it’s just a bunch of smoke and mirrors,” Hernandez said. “And we’re just gonna have to hope that maybe, just maybe, somewhere in some other head shed, somebody is looking out for our best interest.”

Even if the state agrees to issue her a license after she graduates, Hernandez worries it won’t seem valid to potential employers.

(Screenshot of UAA’s Department of Education website)

Overall, the meeting lasted about an hour and a half. Dybdahl says similar forums have been scheduled with each section of the department so more information can be conveyed to students.

Dybdahl says she plans on meeting with the Department of Education and Early Development next Tuesday, January 22nd.

Wesley Early covers Anchorage life and city politics for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org and follow him on X at @wesley_early. Read more about Wesley here.

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