UW-River Falls prepares for Higher Learning Commission visit
October 10, 2018
This October, the University of Wisconsin River Falls will be visited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) to determine if the university will be reaccredited. In order to check on all schools receiving accreditation, which is money from the government, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) selects regional and national accrediting agencies to ensure schools are using this money to provide quality education for students. The HLC is based in Chicago and is the north-central corporation in charge of reviewing degree granting, post-secondary schools.
The HLC conducts onsite visits to UW- River Falls every decade to examine and assess whether or not the university meets criteria. Some of the things HLC will be looking at are if the university has a clear mission, operates with ethics and integrity, offers high quality teaching, and works to improve and evaluate teaching strategies. The university should also be helping direct students to the right resources.
According to their website, HLC’s focus is on “Serving the common good by assuring and advancing the quality of higher learning.” Universities are expected to continuously improve and update their policies, processes and procedures in order to align with the HLC and DOE guidelines. The visit will take place on October 15th and 16th.
In recent years, the DOE has heightened expectations of accreditation agencies. This was done to ensure that universities are being granted accreditation are under stricter regulations. Other accreditation agencies have been recently declined of their authority. This leads to colleges losing accreditation, which results in students being unable to receive financial aid. A university that loses accreditation will likely close if a new accreditation firm isn’t located. Similar to this, if expectations are not met by the accreditation agency and a university receives a negative report. Issues arise making it difficult for that university to continue to operate.
Years of work have gone into preparing for this visit. Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affair and Graduate Studies Wes Chapin has taken on the role of HLC accreditation liaison officer during this process. The university has worked in several areas over time to make improvements for students. Chapin explains that the university has addressed 50 or more items throughout the last two years, from program assessment, complaint assessments, faculty qualifications, to improving sites overseas. This process has involved almost every office on campus. Chapin adds, “There is still work to be done in a few areas, for example online education is an area where we adopted some new policies and procedures.” Chapin explains there is now mandatory faculty training in order to teach online courses.
The university must provide the HLC an assurance argument with evidence showing a quality education is being provided to students. Chapin explains, “If the university represents that you can get a good quality education in History, Political Science, Agriculture, whatever it is, than we need to be able to document that we indeed do that.”
Additionally, Kelly Browning who is the Registrar of the UWRF campus, builds off of this idea that the university should be providing the quality education that it is advertising. Browning is in charge of various matters that have to do with students courses and class schedules. Her department takes care of maintaining students’ Degree Audit Reports (DAR) and their enrollment in classes. Browning said that her department’s preparation for the process of becoming reaccredited consisted of “cleaning up and updating curriculum.” They had to make sure that courses were clearly stating modes of instruction, making sure that courses had syllabi and update course description or prerequisites. Browning said, “we want to make sure that what we are advertising is what the students are getting for their learning outcomes.”
During opening week for faculty, Chapin hired a team of official HLC reviewers to give a mock review. The Dean of College of Arts and Sciences Dean Yohnk explains the events that took place at the mock meeting, “They asked us to share specific examples of how we were achieving certain learning goals and outcomes with students. Using specific stories of students success, and how we assessed and evaluated that, and then making changes to make curriculum stronger.”
Departments across campus have been assessing areas they can improve on from teacher qualifications, to a more uniform syllabus. The Executive Director of Admissions and New Student and Family Programs Sarah Nelson said that the mock interview “was good preparation for the actual visit. We got a sense of what questions might be asked and what information those team members might be looking for on the official visit.”
Students are encouraged to attend all of the HLC meetings. Student Government Association Student Body President Rosemary Pechous had the role of encouraging students to go to the HLC meetings, especially the meeting on the 16th. The meeting on Tuesday the 16th is when the HLC is specifically meeting with student senate and other student leaders. There were about 170 student leaders invited, and this is the main time for the HLC to get input from students. Pechous mentions that student senate directors will attend all the meetings, to make sure a student is present.
The HLC visit is very important for students to be aware of for a multitude of reasons.Nelson mentions, “It is important for students to know that they have a voice in the process to share their experiences and tell their success stories with the HLC team that’s visiting campus.”
As the process continues it is important that students stay aware of the fact that the university is doing everything it can to provide education to students with great quality education.