University of Alaska Anchorage leaders fielded tough questions from students Monday afternoon, as they informed students that programs involving initial licensure within its School of Education are no longer accredited.

UAA chancellor Cathy Sandeen and UAA School of Education interim director Claudia Dybdahl broke the news to over 200 students affected by the Council for the Accreditation of Education Preparation's revocations.

"In a news article it says the yniversity has been working on this since 2016," said student Kelsey Hernandez. "To me, someone who has dedicated many hours and many dollars to this, it's frustrating to me that this wasn't addressed or made public; there was no transparency."

"Nowhere online is there even a hint that there is a problem with this accreditation," said student Keith Boswell. "There's nothing. It would've given me pause. Why was this not made available to all incoming students and posted on the College of Education website?"

The accreditation decision is unrelated to UAA’s institutional accreditation by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

"UAA did not expect this result," Dybdahl said. "We fully expected that we would be accredited."

The university is already working to remedy the problems and get accredited again by CAEP, a nationally-recognized accrediting body for institutions with educator preparation degrees and programs. Part of that work involves the state Department of Education and Early Development.

"Currently, without national accreditation we don't meet state standards," Dybdahl said. "UAA can not recommend for licensure. Only the state grants licenses. The state board will need to decide if can UAA continue to recommend for licensure. That's the second step, the first is we meet with [Education and Early Development] and show them the progress we have made." 

In 2016, data from the School of Education's evaluations and assessments did not meet CAEP standards. Since that time, CAEP has raised its bar in how those materials need to be evaluated. 

"Many of our instruments to measure performance simply didn't meet CAEP's statistical standard," Dybdahl said. "It's really hard for a small institution with small numbers. That's why we joined a new network that has thousands of people who use these instruments. They meet CAEP standards and that's why we went in that direction."

"It's not fun for us to stand up here and say, 'I don't know exactly what is going to happen,'" Sandeen told students. "I felt it was the right thing to do to listen to your concerns. We will do the best we can to fight for you. That's our job. That's what we will do."

Students offered doubts Monday about the school's handling of the matter.

"You need to have some preparations; I don't have the confidence you were prepared," said student Nick Tabaczka "Our secondary group and I can't speak for others, but we came up with five pages of questions. If you guys did not brainstorm this weekend, if you did not brainstorm about what we might ask, that is concerning."

"Why would I continue spending my days going to school?" said student Elaine Merando. "When those are days I could be putting in work hours, providing for myself and creating a great opportunity for myself in the future, versus putting in hours for something that could potentially be meaningless."

"What is my degree going to be now?" Hernandez said. "Because I could've gotten this out of a Cracker Jack box. We're paying for this, I could've gone to [the University of Alaska Southeast], I could've gone to a school somewhere else."

"You're asking us to believe in you and what we are doing in this program and yet it's not there, it is absolutely not there," Boswell said.

UAA officials urged students at Monday's campus town hall meeting to stay in their current course. The best-case scenario is that the state Board of Education will allow all current students in the program to finish and be accredited, with no more students allowed into the program going forward until the situation is resolved. The worst-case scenario is the board denies accreditation to the students and they are out their academic credits and tuition paid to date. 

Students may also transfer to another institution if they so desire. UAA campus advisors are also on hand to help students to decide what the best plan of action for each individual is. Other UA campuses are not affected by the accreditation issue.

"The last two Alaska teachers of the year came through the UAA program," Sandeen said. "We really take seriously our job in preparing teachers for this state. So, this is an unfortunate thing we take very seriously. Our No. 1 priority is taking care of our students."

UAA staff will meet with Education and Early Development officials on Jan. 22.

Editor's note: This story has been edited to correct a typo in the year from Kelsey Hernandez' quote.

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