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June 20, 2024

Accreditation ensures quality of education

December 14, 2006

Imagine if students at UW-River Falls couldn’t get financial aid or earn money through work study programs, or if credits earned weren’t perceived as legitimate and were not transferable to other universities.

This unlikely scenario would take place if UWRF is not reaccredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association (HLC/NCA).

All public schools in the Midwest are accredited, though that hasn’t stopped UWRF administration from taking the reaccredidation process very seriously.

“There is probably no more significant issue in the long-term viability of a college or university than its accreditation,” Chancellor Don Betz said. “Every institution of higher education must pass the scrutiny of an independent review whose purpose is to verify for the public that the institution is doing what it claims.”

Accreditation is the verification that a learning institution provides a quality education and services. It entails a detailed university self-study, as well as a visit from a five- to 10-person review team.

The HLC/NCA review team will not arrive at UWRF until April 2008, but faculty and staff have been preparing for the visit since 2005 when Betz appointed professor of theatre Gorden Hedahl as self-study coordinator.

“One of the recommendations [of HLC/NCA] is that there is a single style and voice,” Hedahl said. “So I’m the editor.”

The findings of the HLC/NCA team will be of major importance, but another major factor will be a University self-study that UWRF is currently undertaking. The self-study final report is required by HLC/NCA and is due three months before its visit to campus. The self-study must touch on every area UWRF has a potential influence on.

“We have to prove that we know what our mission is,” Hedahl said, “that we have a clear plan of what we’re doing, that our students are learning and that we’re having an impact beyond the campus.”

Hedahl plans to complete three drafts before the final self-study report is due.

The first draft, which was posted on the UWRF Web site in late November, was the culmination of research by a 50-person self-study team and several specialized task forces. The team includes more than 40 University faculty and employees, five students and River Falls Mayor Don Richards.

This document is nearly 180 pages and is broken down into five specific criteria that all universities must explore according to HLC/NCA rules: mission and integrity; preparing for the future; student learning and effective teaching; acquisition, discovery and application of knowledge; and engagement and service.

Despite its length, the first draft is very rough, Hedahl said.

Certain sections of the first draft are color coded to represent areas that need to be expanded upon by University faculty, staff and students.

Input from any possible source on campus regarding the self-study is encouraged, Hedahl said. He also would like to see more students involved in the self-study editorial process.

“They should also be looking at these drafts,” Hedahl said. “That’s part of making sure we do a thorough job.”

But Hedahl is having difficulties getting more students involved.

“I’m doing a regular e-mail for faculty and staff, but that’s not really effective for students,” he said.

Hedahl is also working with student government in an attempt to add more student input into the self-study.

If the HLC/NCA finds any discrepancies in the self-study, or if it is not done properly, it could cause unwelcome headaches for administration and faculty.

“The whole goal is to do a thorough job,” Hedhal said. “Those that don’t often end up having to do things over.”

One positive aspect of the self-study process, beyond accreditation, is that it gives everyone a chance to step back and look at the University as a whole.

“We need to know what’s happening,” Hedahl said. “Sometimes you’re so busy doing stuff you don’t realize how much is really going on.”

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