MSU Accreditation Frequently Asked Questions

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NCA Higher Learning Commission Accreditation, 2006


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.

What is the NCA?
The North Central Association is one of six regional associations that accredit schools and colleges in the United States .  The other five are the Middle States , New England , Northwest, Southern and Western Associations.  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, 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.  Unaccredited schools are not eligible for many kinds of federal support.  For more information, see the HLC website.

What does the HLC look for when it accredits colleges and universities?
Along with the change of name, the HLC has just adopted a new set of criteria for evaluation that will go into effect in 2004-2005.  The current criteria can be found at
The five new criteria areas, which will be in effect when MSU comes up for re-accreditation in 2006, are

  • Mission and Integrity
  • Preparing for the Future
  • Student Learning and Effective Teaching
  • Acquisition, Discovery and Application of Knowledge
  • Engagement and Service

Components of these criteria and examples of evidence that support these components can be found at

When will the HLC re-accreditation visit take place?
The campus will prepare a self-study report, based on the new criteria, and submit it to the HLC by early January 2006.  An evaluation team from the HLC is scheduled to come to campus on Feb. 6-8, 2006 .

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 1996.  Re-accreditation usually takes place in a ten-year cycle.  In Spring 2000, the campus did have a Focused Visit from NCA evaluators to examine a few areas that received critical attention during the 1996 visit.  That Focused Visit was a success.  We also applied for accreditation for online programs in 2004, but we are now coming due for our next full accreditation visit.

How is the campus preparing for the re-accreditation visit in 2006?
A Steering Committee has been formed to draft a campus self-study report and to help prepare the campus for the 2006 visit. You can link to the Committee's website by clicking “Accreditation Self Study” in the “Quick Links” column on the MSU home page, or go straight to . For more information on how you can help the campus to prepare, contact the Committee Co-Chairs, Joan Roca ( ) and Don Larsson ( ).

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 new 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 2005, 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 Self-Study Report and will have had access to documents on the web or in electronic formats. 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 and Tuesday, Feb. 6-7. On Wed., Feb. 8, the team will make an Exit Report to the campus on their preliminary findings.

How will the findings be reported?
In both the initial draft and the later, full written report, the HLC team will write an Assurance section that addresses the Criteria and Core Components for accreditation. The team will note the Components that have been met, any that have not been, and any qualifications or concerns regarding them. In addition, the team will write an Advancement section in their role as consultants to offer advice to the campus about issues that might be of concern and ways in which MSU might seek to approach or address those issues. The President should receive a draft of the written report within 6 weeks of the visit. He 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 2016. 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. It is likely that some kind of follow-up activity will be recommended. (Under the new Criteria, HLC staff estimate that 85% of institutions will have some kind of activity required.) One new option that the HLC is currently discussing is establishing an Institute on Assessment that could give institutions a chance to confer and collaborate with each other on a voluntary basis.

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 may want to consider establishing an ongoing body that will bring all of our accreditation, program review, assessment and planning activities together so that we can avoid duplication and work toward the future in processes that are mutually informed and collaborative.

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.