After years of struggling to get its house in order, the Master of Library Science (MLS) program at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU), New Haven, lost its American Library Association (ALA) accreditation on October 28. While faculty and administrators hope to take the withdrawal as an opportunity to focus their efforts on revitalizing the troubled program, the loss of ALA accreditation is a serious blow to the school.
According to interim dean of graduate studies Gregory Paveza, the withdrawal was owing to ALA's continuing concerns regarding faculty productivity at SCSU, as well as worries that the curriculum was not sufficiently up-to-date to be relevant. ALA's Committee on Accreditation (COA) also expressed concerns that SCSU was not listening enough to students and failed to incorporate feedback from students and alums to make changes to the program.
SCSU had been conditionally accredited since 2010, but documents released showed problems with the program dating back as far as 2003, when its ALA-accredited status was renewed. After being put on conditional status in 2010, SCSU was responsible for developing a plan to bring the program up to ALA standards. "After several iterations, the COA accepted the plan put forward by the faculty," said Paveza. "The faculty had been moving ahead with that plan."
Not quickly enough, it would seem. At its summer meeting ending July 1, the COA made the decision to withdraw SCSU's ALA accreditation. SCSU appealed that decision, but on October 27 the COA denied that appeal, and SCSU's MLS program was stripped of its ALA accreditation.
Karen O'Brien, director of the Office of Accreditation at ALA, described the decision to withdraw SCSU's accreditation as a difficult one but necessary. "This was one of the toughest reviews I can remember a panel having to do," O'Brien told LJ. "It's disappointing when a program doesn't meet our standards and accreditation has to be withdrawn."
The decision is not necessarily a death knell, said Paveza. There is no official impact on graduates, and the 134 currently enrolled students will have two years from the date of the withdrawal to complete the program and keep their status as having attended an ALA-accredited program.
Paveza is hopeful that foreign students, as well as those living in states that don't require librarians to graduate from a program certified by ALA, will continue to sign up for SCSU's online program, but he admits that the school's ability to attract students will likely be diminished. Connecticut residents will now be forced to leave the state to pursue an MLS, as SCSU's program was the only ALA-accredited one in the Nutmeg State. With that seal of approval removed, students will have to look at programs in neighboring states like Massachusetts and New York--and the increased tuition and time spent commuting that comes with them.
Asked whether this marks the beginning of a tougher stance on accreditation from ALA, O'Brien told LJ that the reasons behind a program moving to conditional accreditation status can vary widely. "Programs are clear on what's at issue, what's at stake, and when a decision to release them from conditional status or withdraw their accreditation will be made," she said. But, she added, "It's good for programs ... on conditional [status] to know that that is not just words."