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BS Community Leadership and Justice

BS Completion Program 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 Completion 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 Completion 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 BS students must have obtained 60 semester units at a minimum from outside WISR, and including at least 26 semester units of general education course credits elsewhere, with at least 3 semester units in each of the following: natural sciences, humanities/arts, and quantitative reasoning or math. Students may be admitted with less than 60 semester units if they show maturity and capability—and can demonstrate that they are ready to pursue a few upper division level courses at WISR. In these cases, they will be allowed to pursue coursework at WISR while concurrently taking courses at another college (e.g., a community college). In these cases, WISR faculty will provide instruction to these students that may also support and assist them in completing the required 60 semester units (including 26 semester units of general education) elsewhere.

WISR’s BS graduation requirements are that students obtain at least 40 semester units in general education (14 at WISR in addition to the 26 semester units elsewhere), and at least 40 semester units in the major field of Community Leadership and Justice.

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, 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 Completion 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 80 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 Completion Program 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 the full 60 semester units of previous college coursework, mature adults may expect to take 3 years to graduate, unless they are able to pursue their studies with greater  intensity. Those students transferring to WISR with 80 semester units of credit may expect to complete the BS in two years or less. Students who are granted special admission to WISR with less than 60 semester units may expect to take four years, or slightly longer, depending on the units they transfer in with. Those students whose life circumstances permit them to study with the intensity of traditional full-time students, and finish in a year or more less than these estimates.*

The maximum allowable length of study toward a degree  at WISR is 150% of the above expectations— 4 and a half years for students with 60 semester units of transfer credit, 3 years for students transferring with 80 semester units, and 5-6 years for students who are granted special admission while still completing their initial 60 semester units elsewhere.*

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, 3 to 5 years for the BS  completion program, depending on the number of units transferred in), 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 Completion Program in Community Leadership and Justice Curriculum

Generally, WISR courses involve all, or most, of the following:

  • Required and recommended readings to choose from (both books and articles);
  • Action-inquiry projects, culminating in a written paper;
  • Sharing with others at WISR–notes, drafts of ideas, reflections on readings, one’s action-inquiry and practical community/professional involvements–for feedback and dialogue;
  • Regular mentoring and guidance from WISR faculty, on all aspects of the content and process of one’s learning;
  • The development of each student’s eportfolio;
  • Assistance and support from faculty in writing in one’s own voice, clearly, for oneself to further learning, and with one’s audience(s) in mind;
  • Written reflective analyses of what one read;
  • Written self-assessment of one’s learning accomplishments and personal insights from one’s learning activities and methods.


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.

Specific Requirements

WISR’s requirements for the Bachelor of Science are as follows:
120 semester units minimum for graduation, including
40 semester units in general education 
40 semester units in the major field

The culminating major project, the senior thesis involves 6 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 Courses in WISR’s BS Completion Program 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, ongoing collaboration and dialogue with students and faculty, 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.

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.

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