On Jan. 25, Albion College students received an invitation to a drop in session for the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The HLC is an institutional accrediting association that evaluates degree-granting colleges and universities in the United States.
Institutional accreditation happens every 10 years and evaluates institutions based on five criteria: mission; ethical and responsible conduct; teaching and learning: quality, resources and support; teaching and learning: evaluation and improvement; institutional effectiveness, resources and planning.
Institutions must submit an insurance argument articulating how the institution fulfills each criterion and must provide files of evidence to demonstrate their argument. An HLC team then makes a comprehensive visit to the institution.
The insurance argument was a two year process run by a committee coordinated by Beth Lincoln, now-retired professor of geology, and most recently co-chaired by Ron Mourad, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs.
When the visiting team arrives on campus, they ask clarifying questions, talk to students, faculty, staff and trustees to thoroughly understand the institution’s argument.
On Nov. 5, 2021, Mourad sent out an anonymous survey to all students regarding their experiences at Albion College to provide a summary of responses to the HLC before their accreditation visit. According to Mourad, the average student response included positive and negative feedback.
An HLC team visited Albion College from Jan. 24 to Jan. 25. The visiting team consisted of five members; two members visited the campus in-person and the other three members visited virtually due to the COVID-19 omicron variant surge. Larger sessions were open virtually to students, faculty and staff while smaller sessions were held in-person.
In the next step of the accreditation process, the visiting team will send an initial report to Albion College based on the information they gathered from their visit and the insurance argument. Albion College will review the report for fact checking before returning it where the visiting team sends a final report to an HLC commission team.
The commission group reads and reviews the visiting teams report and makes a decision on Albion College’s accreditation. The commission team has a range of recommendations to choose from including whether an institution is accredited or not, in compliance, in compliance with monitoring or not in compliance.
According to Mourad, Albion College has a great relationship with accreditations, specifically HLC, since it was established as an institution in 1861.
In this visit around, Mourad raises two areas of concern in their accreditation evaluation. During their exit interview, the visiting team prompted questions regarding departmental assessment efforts focused on student learning outcomes and the general education curriculum assessment within the last five years.
“While we were giving departments time and space to reevaluate their student learning outcomes and how they’re mapped to their curriculum, we haven’t been collecting annual assessment reports about the data the departments are collecting and giving them feedback on that data gathering and continuous improvement process,” said Mourad.
The second area that HLC could highlight is Albion College’s Board of Trustees.
“The Board of Trustees is piloting a new committee structure for itself. It’s a new structure and it is not yet reflected in a revision of the college’s bylaws,” said Mourad. “So we’re kind of in a moment of transition or lag between the old committee structure and the new committee structure and they were just a little confused why the two things didn’t match up.”
Mourad infers that Albion College will receive recommendations to return to the practice of collecting annual departmental assessment reports and giving feedback to departments on assessment.
“I’m confident that we will be reaccredited and I’m also confident that HLC will have some constructive feedback for us,” said Mourad. “They always do, and that’s actually a valuable part of this process. It holds up a mirror to our processes, procedures and policies. That is helpful.”
Albion College will announce their accreditation status once the HLC has made their decision.
Correction: The headline of this article originally misnamed the Higher Learning Commission and has since been corrected.