Representatives from the Higher Learning Commission will visit Wayne State on March 6 and 7 to seek student opinions as part of a comprehensive evaluation.
Students will also have the opportunity to fill out an opinion survey from Jan. 17-25. These events are key steps in a years-long process that determines whether the university’s regional accreditation will be reaffirmed.
According to its website, the HLC presides over the “degree-granting, post-secondary educational institutions” in 19 states.
Accreditation has four components: quality initiative, assurance argument, Federal Compliance Filing and peer review.
The quality initiative asks institutions to identify a unique challenge and implement a strategy to address that challenge. WSU chose the Undergraduate Academic Advising Initiative as its quality initiative in August 2014 and completed it in August 2016.
In under 35,000 words, WSU must defend its accreditation and fulfillment of predetermined criteria in a digital assurance argument.
WSU files Federal Compliance Files annually, which contain reports on the university’s Title IV program responsibilities, Title IX responsibilities and other regulations.
Peer review began in September 2016 when the HLC appointed a team to later evaluate the assurance argument and conduct the on-campus visit in March, which will include standard university meetings, issue-oriented meetings and public forum opportunities.
The reaffirmation team says the HLC representatives will be paying special attention to how students speak about WSU and whether the feedback reflects the university’s mission: “We will create and advance knowledge, prepare a diverse student body to thrive and positively impact local and global communities.”
Since WSU’s last accreditation in 2007, there have been three different presidents, numerous executive leadership changes and various budget reductions. In 2009, the HLC made major revisions to its accreditation criteria based on the national higher education reform agenda.
“There’s a lot more attention by both the public and the federal government—the Department of Education in particular—to both the quality of the education, the accountability of universities and the transparency by which we’re operating,” said Sandra Yee, dean of the university library system and the co-chair for the reaffirmation team.
“The federal government actually depends on accrediting bodies like the Higher Learning Commission to assure the quality of colleges and universities around the country,” she said.
Yee was part of the accreditation team 10 years ago and said the new criteria is much more beneficial to students and universities.
“In 2007, we really did a snapshot of where we were in time [and] what had happened up to that point and how we could present ourselves as being a quality institution. They are now asking us to be a very student-centered organization and to look at doing our work through a student-focused lens.”
Accreditation Project Manager Donna Dauphinais said the future of reaffirmations is unclear due to differential accreditation, which gives organizations like the HLC power to evaluate the degree-granting institutions on a case-by-case basis rather than in a standardized fashion.
Should the university meet the new standards, future reaffirmation processes could have a more ongoing, updatable structure rather than requiring institutions to compile massive data files every 10 years.
However, differential accreditation would also allow the HLC to check up on institutions as much or as little as they see fit.
“Regional accreditation is like an umbrella, because we also have at this university about 150 programs that are accredited by what we call specialized accrediting agencies, like the [Liaison Committee on Medical Education] for medicine,” Dauphinais said. “This is essential [because] it covers everything. If you don’t have regional accreditation, you can forget about the rest.”
Prior to the evaluation visit, the public is encouraged to provide third-party feedback directly to the HLC. The university is required to forward the public comments directly to the HLC’s peer review team, which can be accepted up to 30 days before the visit. Comments must be in writing and received before Feb. 3.
This story was featured in the winter 2017 Back to School edition– The Diversity Issue