By Kelsey Lauer
A change in federal accreditation standards is causing Albion College to re-evaluate its preparation of students for post-college life.
The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA) will reaffirm the college’s eligibility to dispense federal aid during the 2010-2011 academic year. In preparation for the committee’s visit, Albion put together a 12-member Steering Committee of faculty, students and administration to evaluate the college’s overall effectiveness, said David Seely, professor of physics and committee chair.
“As recently as 10 years ago (at our last assessment), accreditation was concerned primarily with assessment of courses and transferability and financial stability,” Seely said. “(HLC) had a change in their own process in accreditation from the U.S Department of Education. That has us looking at institutional effectiveness and preparation of students for life-long learning and work in a diverse technological world.”
Areas assessed by the committee included academic affairs, athletics, institutional advancement, the finance office, admissions and the assessment process itself. In some cases, as with academic affairs, the committee hired external recruiters like Delaware Study and the Austen Group; the finance office conducted an internal self-review, according to Susan Conner, provost.
Representatives from the HLC will visit Albion’s campus Feb. 6-9, 2011 to conduct interviews and present their findings to the HLC’s assembly. Depending on how fast the team assembles its findings, the materials will be presented to either the spring or fall assembly, which will vote to reaffirm Albion’s accreditation.
“(The self-study) leads you to soul-searching and recommendations,” Conner said. “We are strengthening some units; we’re working with athletics right now. Two consultants form Division 3 schools came to campus and reviewed our funding, organization and recruiting. We’re just beginning to put some of those suggestions into practice.”
One of the difficulties that the committee faced was that Albion had not previously documented many of the areas that needed to be evaluated, Conner said.
“I think we’re still going to be weak on assessment, (which was a concern that) was raised 10 years ago,” Conner said. “We still need to do a better job of assessing everything we do. Rather than saying, ‘I teach French History—you need to learn it,’ we need to look at what we need to know in a world context (and find) the right knowledge base to provide you with some kernels of what you need when you graduate.”
The committee’s findings will be compiled into a five-section plan organized according to the HLC’s criteria for accreditation: mission and integrity; preparing for the future; student learning and effective teaching; acquisition, discovery and application of knowledge; and engagement and service.
On Sept. 29, a draft of the mission and integrity section was released to faculty and staff for comment. Drafts from the other sections of the plan will be released over the next several weeks, with the final version submitted to the HLC by Nov. 15.
Two students, Casey Hoffman, Menominee junior and president of Student Senate, and Rachel Leads, Farmington Hills junior, have also taken part in the committee meetings, which meet twice weekly. Chelsea Denault, Clinton Township senior, also sat on the committee last year before leaving to study abroad.
“I know some schools will go through their accreditation process without any input from students,” Hoffman said. “It speaks volume about Albion College on how our faculty and administration view the student in that student input has been a vital part of the process.”
Hoffman said that he appreciated the chance to offer a student perspective on topics such as modes, categories and community involvement.
“We’ve started a dialogue about things at the college,” Hoffman said. “Recent times in Albion College have challenged the resolve of just about everyone at the Albion community, and taking a step back and looking is very healthy.”