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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Frequently Asked Questions

Page address: http://www.mnsu.edu/hlc/HLCFAQ.html

Higher Learning Commission Accreditation, 2016

What is the Higher Learning Commission (HLC)? What happened to the North Central Association (NCA)?
The Higher Learning Commission is the newly-renamed arm of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools that is responsible for the accreditation of colleges, universities and other institutions of higher learning. The full title used to be North Central Association Commission on Institutions of Higher Education. The new name is simpler and reflects the shift in higher education toward accountability for student learning. The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) is an independent corporation that was founded in 1895 as one of six regional institutional accreditors in the United States. HLC, one of six regional associations that accredit schools and colleges in the United States, accredits degree-granting post-secondary educational institutions in the North Central region of the United States. Although most of the colleges and universities that the NCA Higher Learning Commission accredits are in the upper Midwest, its geographical range extends from West Virginia to Arizona.

What is HLC accreditation? Why is it important?
While many academic agencies accredit particular programs of study (education, nursing, business, etc.), the Higher Learning Commission and other regional accrediting agencies are responsible for assuring that colleges and universities meet certain standards in terms of their missions, operations, and activities in teaching and student learning, discovery and promotion of knowledge, and service. Accreditation is an assurance to the public that an institution is properly prepared to do its job. On a more practical level, the HLC and the other accrediting agencies have been designated as the "gatekeepers" for federal funds in higher education, including student financial aid. Unaccredited schools are not eligible for many kinds of federal support. For more information, see the HLC website at: https://www.hlcommission.org/About-the-Commission/about-hlc.html.

What does HLC look for when it accredits colleges and universities?
HLC has just adopted a new set of criteria for evaluation that can be found at: http://policy.hlcommission.org/Policies/criteria-for-accreditation.html. The five new criteria areas, which will be in effect when MSU comes up for re-accreditation in 2006, are:

1. Mission
2. Integrity: Ethical and Responsible Conduct
3. Teaching and Learning: Quality, Resources, and Support
4. Teaching and Learning: Evaluation and Improvement
5. Resources, Planning, and Institutional Effectiveness

Components of these criteria and examples of evidence that support these components can be found at http://www.hlcommission.org/Criteria-Eligibility-and-Candidacy/criteria-and-core-components.html.

When will the HLC re-accreditation visit take place?
The campus will prepare the Assurance Argument Report, based on the criteria, and submit it to the HLC by early January 2016. An evaluation team from the HLC is scheduled to come to campus on March 28-29, 2016.

Why are we being visited for re-accreditation so soon? Didn't we just go through this?
The last full accreditation visit from the North Central Association was in 2006. Re-accreditation usually takes place in a ten-year cycle.

How is the campus preparing for the reaffirmation of accreditation visit in 2016? An HLC Assurance Sub-Committee has been formed to draft the Assurance Report and to help prepare the campus for the 2016 visit. You can link to the University's HLC Accreditation website for general information about the accreditation process. For more information on how you can help the campus to prepare, contact the Committee Co-Chairs, Joan Roca (joan.roca@mnsu.edu) and Andi Lassiter (andrea.lassiter@mnsu.edu).

Who will be on the HLC team?
The campus will be visited by a Peer Review Team of trained Consultant Evaluators. These are administrators, staff people, and faculty who have been accepted to the Peer Review Corps by the HLC. All will have gone through training for such visits and will be familiar with the evaluation Criteria. Most of the team members will be experienced reviewers. The President has already given the HLC a list of desirable experience and knowledge to be represented by the team. During Fall semester 2015, the President will have the opportunity to reply to the team makeup suggested by the HLC and recommend changes.

What will the team do during the visit?
The team will already have received the complete campus Assurance Report and will have had access to all supporting documents. During the visit, they will be seeking to validate the content of the report in terms of the strengths we have declared and data that support them, as well as concerns that need attention or issues that may confront us in the future. Team members will have meetings with key individuals and groups from across the campus and will have open meetings that are less structured. Most of these activities will take place on Monday or Tuesday, March 28 and 29.

How will the findings be reported?
The HLC team will write an Assurance section that addresses the Criteria and Core Components for accreditation and send a draft to the campus a few weeks after the visit. The team will note the Components that have been met, any that have not been, and any qualifications or concerns regarding them. After receiving the draft, the President will have a chance to correct factual errors, and the final report will be submitted to the HLC no more than 9 weeks after the visit.

What kinds of recommendations might the team make?
The team may simply recommend continued accreditation with no recommended follow-up activities before the next scheduled visit in 2026. If an institution is in serious trouble, the team could recommend probation or even withdrawal of accreditation. In between there is a range of possible actions, including required progress reports on how the institution is dealing with particular issues, monitoring reports dealing with specific issues that require careful and ongoing attention, and contingency reports dealing with changes taking place that affect the mission or nature of the institution. HLC staff estimate that 85% of institutions will have some kind of activity required.

What will happen to the report when the visit is over?
MSU as an institution will need to look carefully at the report, both for the validation of the things that we are doing well and for advice about ways in which we can improve what we are doing. Particular issues may be referred to appropriate committees and offices for examination and action. The campus Assessment and Evaluation Sub-Meet has an advisory responsibility in ensuring the University is meeting accreditation requirements and will continue engaged in quality initiatives.

What do we hope to learn from this process?
We hope, above all, that the visit will confirm that MSU is meeting its mission to promote learning in all meaningful ways. We also hope to receive good advice about ways in which we can better meet and advance our mission. And we hope that as an institution we will learn much more about ourselves.

Updated 3/11/2016