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June 14, 2016

Although some time has passed since you last received an Accreditation Update, that doesn’t mean we have finished and nothing is going on.  Far from it! A small crew of the HLC Steering Committee has been working hard to revise and refine the Argument, reduce the word count, and strengthen the evidence with more convincing and up-to-date documents.

Many thanks to Dr. White for his excellent comments and suggestions and for writing a compelling Introduction to the Assurance Argument. Additional thanks to the Cabinet members for their assistance as we approach the finish line: to Gen. Reno for frequent consultations and keeping us on track, and to Jon Wood, Janice Supplee, Alan Geist, Dave Bartlett, and Chris Sohn for helping us find even stronger evidence and answering our last-minute questions.

On Monday June 13 we reached two mini-milestones.  First, we moved into our ninth and final Review Round, as the Trustees were invited to read the Argument.  We look forward to their valuable feedback. Second, four Mock Reviewers were given access to the Assurance System–the online repository which houses our Assurance Argument–and they will begin their review in preparation for the Mock Visit on Aug. 10-11, 2016.  Once we receive and incorporate feedback from these two groups, we will prepare for the lockdown of the Argument.  At that time the HLC Review Team will have the opportunity to examine our Argument in preparation for the real Site Visit on Oct. 10-11, 2016.

A little more about the Mock Review team.  With the help of Dr. Mike Firmin, Professor of Psychology and an official peer reviewer for HLC, we were able to engage 3 reviewers who will come to campus for the Mock Visit and 1 reviewer who will examine the Argument remotely and provide feedback.  All 4 reviewers are official HLC peer reviewers and, along with Dr. Firmin, have had much experience conducting HLC Site Reviews.  We value their service to our University and believe that their feedback will help us fine-tune our Argument and help us prepare for the Site Visit in October. After the Mock Review we will still have enough time to make adjustments before lockdown.

The Mock Review was strategically planned to coincide with important meeting days designated for the Academic Leadership Group. As we get closer to the Mock Visit, Mr. Tom Betcher, Director of Accreditation and Assessment Services, will be contacting faculty and staff leadership groups in order to schedule meetings with the Mock Review team.  The request for meetings will be initiated by the reviewers after they read the Argument and determine the groups and individuals with whom they need to meet.

Another important piece of our required documentation for reaffirmation of accreditation is the Federal Compliance Report.  This is a document required by the US Department of Education although it is submitted directly to HLC. We have now collected all of the required materials, answered all of the questions, and are currently touching up the formatting.  The Mock Review team will also review this Report and provide feedback, with still enough time to make revisions as needed.

The third part of our new protocol for accreditation, Open Pathways, requires a Quality Initiative project.  As you know, this project focused on Academic Advising, and included the implementation of Student Planning and the development of the new Online Advising Handbook.  Led by Dr. Pam Johnson, Dean of Undergraduate Studies, and the Academic Advising Task Force, this is an ongoing initiative; however, a final report of accomplishments to date was submitted to HLC on May 27, 2016, well before the required deadline.  Many thanks to Dr. Johnson and the Task Force for this monumental and multi-year undertaking!

A final requirement before the Site Review is our posting of “public notification of opportunity to comment.” This is a notice letting our constituencies know that the University is undergoing accreditation review and that anyone may file a comment directly with the Higher Learning Commission. Federal Compliance requires that we should include students, parents, alumni, taxpayers, donors, community groups, and local businesses in this notification. The Office of Accreditation and Assessment Services will put these notices in local newspapers, the University website, newsletters, and/or alumni publications.  We will be publishing these notices approximately two months prior to the visit in order for comments to be received by the Higher Learning Commission in time for the review team to examine.  The public notification will include the dates and nature of the Site Visit, the University’s current accreditation status with HLC, an invitation to send written, signed comments to HLC, and contact information for HLC.

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