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BS Community Leadership and Justice

BS in Community Leadership and Justice–Program Description, Table of Contents

  • Mission and Objectives of BS Program in Community Leadership and Justice
  • Admission, Transfer of Credit, Orientation
  • Regulations regarding WISR’s BS in Community Leadership and Justice Program
  • Structure and Content of BS in Community Leadership and Justice Curriculum
  • Coursework–Requirements, Options and Course Descriptions

Mission and Objectives of BS Program in Community Leadership and Justice

In the face of growing economic injustice, rising tuition costs, skyrocketing student loan debt, unemployment among recent college graduates, and the fading interest among mainline colleges to provide education for civic engagement, WISR’s BS program is dedicated to providing a valuable alternative. We welcome young adults and older adults, those with only a high school diploma or GED and no previous college, as well as those entering WISR with three years of college transfer credit. Our 40 years of experience in personalized education make the Western Institute for Social Research (WISR) an affordable model of undergraduate education founded on WISR’s values and our commitment to working with students to help them build bridges to meaningful employment and/or civic engagement, through action inquiry, a multicultural base and progressive social change.

More than ever, there is a need in the US for undergraduate programs like WISR’s. Specifically,
· All too seldom are students from lower-income backgrounds and disenfranchised communities admitted, much less well-served, by four-year institutions.
· Less and less are middle-class students able to use their college education to obtain employment, and they are even less likely to find meaningful work.
· In the face of financial pressures, colleges are less likely to provide students with any personal attention, and classes devoted to the education of the “whole person” are being phased out or de-emphasized.
· As much as ever, and perhaps more than has been the case for over 60 years, it will be difficult to pursue our country’s democratic ideals without a “critical mass” of committed, well-educated professionals who see themselves as community leaders and “change agents.”

This program, like all of WISR’s educational programs, is suited for learners with many different types of future goals, including but not limited to:  changing careers, pursuing advancement in one’s existing career, becoming more capable and more meaningfully engaged in one’s existing job or career niche, or making contributions to others and to the larger community as an unpaid expert drawing on one’ professional knowledge, skill and talents.

Learning Objectives

  • explore possible career paths in community services and leadership;
  • gain sufficient knowledge to obtain entry level employment in non-profit organizations, small business operation, international affairs, or local civic affairs;
  • in other words,education and skill training for immediate employment, for example, in local small businesses and non-profits;
  • a general education sufficient to enable the learner to be prepared for more than one type of work–by combining the best of a practical professional education with a solid liberal arts education;
  • development and/or enhanced commitment to one’s own community, and to active citizen participation informed by a deep concern for the “public good,”
  • know-how in building bridges to the next important steps in one’s life, both for economic independence and consciousness of the significance of one’s life decisions, and
  • the ability and interest to engage in satisfying lifelong learning as part of building a meaningful and fulfilling life for oneself, one’s friends, neighbors and loved ones
  • ability to design and pursue small-scale action and/or research projects which can contribute to community improvement, using methods of action-research, especially, qualitative, participatory research
  • significant progress in WISR’s core meta-competencies and areas of learning: 1) Critical, Creative, Compassionate, Collaborative/Communal Thinking and Communication; 2) Becoming a Conscious, Intentional, Improvising Learner; 3) Community Leadership and Collaboration; 4) Experience, Competence, Talent, and Knowledge in One’s Chosen Area(s) of Specialization; 5) Participatory Action-Inquiry and Qualitative Research; 6) Awareness of Issues of Justice, Sustainability and Social Change; 7) Multicultural Perspective.

Admission, Transfer of Credit, Orientation


Entering students must attest to having a high school diploma, or having passed the GED exam.  In addition, those with no previous college credit, must demonstrate in the first course at WISR that they are capable of doing this level of academic work.  If they are not able to do this, they will have their tuition money refunded and not be allowed to continue in the program. They may, at a later date, reapply for admission if they successfully complete college level work elsewhere (e.g., in a California community college) and are subsequently able to study and perform well in the introductory course on “Learning the WISR Way.”

Students with undergraduate coursework from unaccredited institutions may apply for special admission—by submitting evidence of the quality of their previous academic study (e.g., copies of papers, or recommendations from academicians who hold accredited doctoral degrees).  Such applicants may also submit information about successful community projects in which they have played a key role, as well as professional or scholarly papers or projects that they have produced. In these cases, we are looking for evidence that suggest that their previous undergraduate study, and their resulting competencies, are at the level expected of students who have completed course work in accredited programs.

In addition to transcripts of previous academic work, and an affidavit where they attest to the details of their high school graduation or passage of the GED, all applicants must submit a one-page application form, and a brief statement of their interests and reasons for wanting to study in WISR’s BS program in Community Leadership and Justice, along with two letters of recommendations from academicians, professionals, or community leaders familiar with the student’s accomplishments and abilities.  Quite importantly, all applicants must have an interview with WISR’s President or a faculty member in the BS program in Community Leadership and Justice—to determine if WISR’s program will address the student’s needs and purposes, and if there is a good fit between the student’s desired approaches to learning and the “WISR way.”

Transfer of Credits

Entering students may submit for faculty approval, up to 90 semester units of previous college level work, for transfer. Students with undergraduate academic credit from unaccredited institutions may apply for consideration of their transfer credit—by submitting evidence of the quality of their previous academic study (e.g., copies of papers, or recommendations from academicians who hold accredited doctoral degrees).  Such applicants may also submit information about successful community projects in which they have played a key role, as well as professional or scholarly papers or projects that they have produced. In these cases, we are looking for evidence that suggest that their previous undergraduate study, and their resulting competencies, are at the level expected of accredited programs. In any case, no credit is granted for previous life experience, although that experience may be used to validate the learning in, and credit received from, an unaccredited institution. Faculty will evaluate student transcripts to determine which credits apply to general education, which apply to the major of “community leadership and justice” and which can be used only as credit for electives.

Orientation to WISR

All entering BS in Community Leadership and Justice students must enroll in a four semester unit course on “Learning the WISR Way.”  In this course, students read articles about WISR’s approach to learning, including self-directed, learner-centered education; discuss these articles with WISR faculty; interview alumni and currently enrolled students to learn more about WISR’s approach to learning.

Description and Goals: “This is an introductory course, required of WISR students in all degree programs, which is designed to enable students to progress more effectively toward the successful completion of the degree program at WISR, so that students can get the most from their WISR education—in pursuing their learning passions and career interests, in developing the core meta-competencies valued at WISR, and in building bridges for themselves to the next significant things they wish to do in their lives.   Students read and study the methods of “Learning the WISR way”–studying the theories and strategies of WISR’s approach to transformative learning for professional and community leadership, as well as learning from stories and specific examples drawn from the experiences of other WISR students.


Also, students are introduced to methods of note-taking and writing in their own voice, as well as the use of professional conventions in formal writing and strategies of effective online research. In this course, students reflect on, discuss and write about what they are learning in the course, and the culminating papers are a reflective autobiographical essay, a preliminary educational plan and a self-assessment inventory of strengths, challenges, needs, and opportunities in the pursuit of their future goals and learning.”

In writing these papers, students must include a statement of how and why WISR’s self-paced, learner-centered methods are appropriate for them—with fewer hours in traditional, large classrooms, and more time spent for 6 or more hours per week in one-on-one mentoring sessions and small group seminar discussions.

Distance learners must include in their autobiographical statement, learning plan, and self-assessment, an analysis of how and why distance learning at WISR is feasible for them, and will result in their being able to meet their needs and accomplish their goals.

These statements are to be discussed, reviewed and approved by at least one member of the WISR faculty.

Finally, this course is also used to introduce and orient new students to 1) WISR’s career center and resources, and 2) WISR’s library resources, the library resources of other libraries and online databases which WISR will enable or help students to access.

Regulations regarding WISR’s BS in Community Leadership and Justice Program

Length of Study

The vast majority of WISR students are mature adults with significant work and family responsibilities, time demands and commitments. Most students will progress at a rate approximately equivalent to half-time enrollment.  WISR’s tuition is very affordable, even in comparison to other private institution’s rates for half-time enrollment. All WISR students pay the same tuition, and those students who are able to pursue their studies with an intensity and at a pace comparable to students who are seriously engaged full-time students will very likely be able to graduate in 40 to 50 percent of the estimated time for studies in WISR degree programs.

For students pursuing a BS degree, the length of study at WISR will also depend greatly on the amount of previously completed coursework that can be accepted as transfer credit.  For those students with no transfer credit, mature adults may expect to take 6 years to graduate, unless they are able to pursue their studies with greater  intensity. Those students transferring to WISR with 90 semester units of credit may expect to complete the BS in two years, and students transferring with 60 semester units may expect to complete the BS in 4 years. *

The maximum allowable length of study toward a degree  at WISR is 150% of the above expectations—9 years for students with no previous college, 3 years for students transferring with 90 semester units and 6 years for those transferring with 60 semester units.

In all cases, faculty will strive to support students in their efforts to complete their degree in a timely manner, while also benefiting from their studies at WISR in ways that will help them build bridges to the next important life goals.

*These program length expectations do not include any time off for leaves of absence due to matters resulting from health issues, family responsibilities or periods of financial hardship.  Each leave of absence must be for a minimum of six months, during which time the student does not pay tuition, and during which time the student may not receive credit for any efforts related to their studies at WISR.  The student pays a $600 re-enrollment fee when resuming their studies.


Faculty review of student progress

An Executive Committee of at least three WISR faculty, will review each student’s progress semi-annually, in consultation with the faculty with whom the student has been most closely working.  The purpose of these reviews is to help students make timely progress toward their degree and their personal and professional career goals.  In conducting these reviews, faculty will be mindful that during the first year or so of study, students at WISR do not typically complete courses at the same rate as they do after that.   When faculty have concerns about a student’s progress, they will negotiate with that student a progress plan for the next six months.  The purpose of the plan will be to enable the student to make better progress, and to assess whether or not it is realistic for the student to succeed in completing the program in a timely fashion.  If, after the end of the six-month progress plan, WISR faculty do not believe that it is realistic that the student can complete the program within a reasonable time frame (specifically, 6 to a maximum of 9 years for the doctoral program and for the MFT/LPCC programs, 4 to a maximum of 6 years for the other MS programs, and depending on previous undergraduate work completed, 6 to 9 years or less for the BS  program), then the faculty committee reviewing student progress will recommend that the student be disenrolled.  (Note:  students enrolled prior to July 2014 will have a longer period of time to complete their studies, but they will still be subject to disenrollment if they do not show continual progress.) The student may appeal any decision to WISR’s Board of Trustees. If the student is disenrolled, they will be given an opportunity, after a period of at least six months, to re-apply for admission, if they can make the case that their circumstances and/or ability to complete the program have improved.  If re-admitted, they will be given one six-month period to demonstrate good progress, and they must continue to demonstrate good progress in each subsequent six-month period.

Structure and Content of BS in Community Leadership and Justice Curriculum

 Basic format

Each of the required courses will have some assigned readings designed to give the student an overview of key ideas, skills to be developed, and issues in that area.  In addition, there will be some recommended readings, and the learner will also be assigned a brief essay or two to discuss their most important thoughts and insights from the readings.  This will constitute about 30% of the course.  The second, and larger, phase of the student’s studies in each course, will grow out of the student’s special interests, resulting in an individually designed project (research and/or action) that focuses both on a topic of strong interest to the student and on some topics addressed in the particular course.  The student will write a substantial paper growing out of the project, and will do a personalized self-assessment that describes and self-assesses the student’s learning in the course. In addition, students who wish to pursue affordable coursework at local community colleges will be encouraged to do so, and WISR faculty will be actively involved in helping students make the most of their community college learning, so that they can integrate that coursework with their WISR studies.

The core learning methods will include the following:


  • *providing personalized, learner-centered education, with two or more one-on-one consultations with WISR faculty each month;
    • *helping students develop and make use of their own Learning Portfolio—hard copy and electronic files of student course syllabi, papers and essays written, multimedia projects completed, and      students will also be encouraged and supported to engage in group project work with other students;
  • *story-based learning that enables students to tell, listen to, read, write about, and discuss stories, and to view video/film depictions of stories, thereby drawing on their own experiences and the  wealth of wisdom found in their communities and among many “ordinary” and famous people throughout history;
  • *group support and collaboration, based on a student-faculty culture in which all are committed to the success of each student;
  • *instruction in how to make practical use of academic knowledge and ideas;
  • *guidance in the use of libraries, online internet resources and learning technology;
  • *encouragement and guidance in pursuing, as part of each student’s studies, community involvement in nonprofit organizations, public social service agencies, co-ops, faith-based groups,  community businesses, labor unions, activist groups, schools and youth programs, and “community action think tanks”; and
  • *study of the “bigger picture” challenges involved in trying to create long-term social change—for justice and the public good—so that each student is motivated and prepared for civic involvement  and as an agent of social change.

Students will be expected to participate in at least two seminars or study groups each month, with opportunities and encouragement to participate in four or more each month, if they wish.


Specific Requirements

WISR’s requirements for the Bachelor of Science are as follows:
124 units minimum for graduation, including
36 units in general education 
60 or more units in the major field

The culminating major project, the senior thesis involves 10 to 15 semester units of credit.
No specific minor field is required, because at WISR the major field is expected to be sufficiently interdisciplinary to involve the student in more than one traditional area of study.
Each undergraduate, when admitted, must have completed a substantial, year-long course in each of three areas (social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences), or must complete at least 8 semester units of coursework at WISR dealing with methods, and/or examples, of inquiry in humanities and/or natural sciences.

During their work at WISR, all students are helped and expected to improve their communication skills throughout their WISR studies–both writing and oral communication, as part of the meta-competency, “Competence in (Critical, Creative, Compassionate, Constructive, Collaborative/Communal) Thinking and Communication.”

Coursework–Requirements, Options and Course Descriptions

Details on Coursework–Requirements, Options, and Course Descriptions [<– click to left for details]



40th Anniversary w-out 2015


Assigning Academic Credit in to Courses in WISR’s BS in Community Leadership and Justice Program 

Credit is assigned based on the extent to which a student is expected to demonstrate a substantial level of learning and accomplishment, in a course, thesis or independent study project or practicum, in two broad realms—1) The quantity and quality of the student’s engagement in learning at WISR, and 2) the learning outcomes and competencies demonstrated by the student, based on faculty assessment of student learning–through mentoring discussions, small group seminars, papers and projects completed, and self-assessments written by the student pertaining to the evidence of their learning process and outcomes.

WISR’s expectations for the quantity and quality of student engagement in learning at WISR approximate that of the traditional “Carnegie unit” which grants one semester unit for each 45 hours of participation in learning.  It deviates slightly from the Carnegie unit in that WISR provides approximately 6 hours instead of 15 hours of classroom instruction for each unit earned.  Instead of having large classes and lectures which are less effective than more personalized, learning-centered instructional methods, students at WISR  are typically engaged in at least two hours of personalized mentoring each month, along with four hours (or more, if the student wishes) of small seminar participation–usually a half dozen or so students meeting face to face and/or by phone or video conference with one or two WISR faculty.

In addition to this substantial, high quality engagement in learning at WISR—similar to the well-known Oxford model of education—WISR faculty only award credit if the student’s work indicates learning and competency accomplishments comparable to what students would typically receive for that number of semester units (typically 5 semester units, at WISR) in an accredited program performing at a grade of “C” or higher.  As a further frame of reference, for example, a student earning 5 semester units of credit, must demonstrate that they have completed almost 1/25th (5/124ths or about 4%) of WISR’s BS in Community Leadership and Justice program.

In addition, in assessing student work, WISR faculty use the above stated programmatic learning outcomes, as well as the outcomes for each particular course, to evaluate student progress as demonstrated by evidence from mentoring discussions, small group seminars, papers and projects completed, and self-assessments written by the student pertaining to the evidence of their learning process and outcomes.

More Information on:

Grading and Awarding Academic Credit

Required Seminar Participation and Annotated Bibliographies

Graduation Review Boards and Assessment of Student Progress