In early February, students will have the opportunity to be a part of a once-in-a-decade occurrence as John Carroll University undergoes the reaccreditation process. Every 10 years, the Higher Learning Commission selects a team of visitors to come evaluate the University based on five criteria: mission; integrity: ethical and responsible conduct; teaching and learning: quality, resources and support; teaching and learning: evaluation and improvement; and resources, planning and institutional effectiveness.
Accreditors work with the U.S. Department of Education to make sure that institutions are following certain federal regulations. An HLC visiting team of about five individuals will be on campus from Feb. 10-12. JCU belongs to the North Central branch of HLC, so the visitors will be from other colleges and universities in the same region.
Matthew Berg, professor of history, and Kathleen Lis Dean, assistant provost for institutional effectiveness, are co-chairs of the JCU HLC Steering Committee, which consists of nearly 30 faculty, staff and administrators. One of their main responsibilities is writing a detailed, 200-page self-study of the University, which they have been working on for the past year and a half, that the visitors will assess prior to their visit.
The report provides an overview of the significant developments that have transpired on campus since the University’s last accreditation during the 2003-2004 school year. It also provides a response to the five major concerns that the visiting HLC team raised in 2004 and outlines what the University has done to address these concerns.
“You want to make sure that you can tell a success story about what the institution’s doing and provide evidence,” said Berg.
Some of the concerns the team has addressed in the study include improving the way student learning is assessed across the University, increasing awareness about diversity and improving faculty and staff morale and communication issues.
A draft of the self-study is available for the JCU community to read on an internal webpage, jcu.edu/hlc.
The University will make space for the HLC team on campus to work and look at other resources.
“They understand higher education they understand what a quality institution is and they can help us understand where we are with that,” said Dean.
During their stay, their main priority will be talking with people on campus, whether this is during scheduled times with the president, vice presidents, academic departments or student organizations, or simply in passing while walking around campus.
“They’ll ask students walking across the quad, ‘Are you aware the accreditation’s going on?’” said Berg.
“They could ask you any number of things,” said Dean. “And so they’ll use that information to try to understand if what we wrote in the report really accurately reflects reality. It certainly doesn’t mean that people have to agree with what’s in the report. Certainly, there will be people who disagree with different parts of it, or it doesn’t reflect their experience, but it’s really intended to articulate what the broader consensus or what the evidence really suggests.”
The HLC team will also hold an open meeting for all students to express their opinions on the study and campus life in general.
Both Dean and Berg stressed that students should be interested in the accreditation process, since it directly affects them.
“Accreditation is a way to ensure quality in an institution,” said Dean. “If you have a degree from an accredited institution, that’s going to be recognized by employers and graduate schools. In some cases, you need to come from an accredited program or school in order to be considered. So there’s an understanding of it as a quality degree.”
JCU has been continuously accredited since 1922. Without accreditation, a university is at risk for losing the ability to receive federal aid.
“Students might be interested to know what this institution says about itself,” said Berg. “After all, they’re investing four years of their lives to be here, and some expense to be here too, so they might be interested to know how the University makes an argument as to why it deserves to be reaccredited.”