John Carroll University received a public disclosure notice and an institutional action letter on Tuesday, March 10 stating the institution is at risk of being out of compliance with the criteria for accreditation. The University has been placed on notice, but remains accredited.
JCU first achieved accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission in 1922, and has maintained this for the past 93 years.
The University’s president, the Rev. Robert Niehoff, S.J., and Provost and Academic Vice President Jeanne Colleran believe the HLC will take JCU off notice following HLC’s next visit in 2016, once JCU has compiled longitudinal data and has clarified each program’s learning goals.
“We will not be on notice after 2016,” said Colleran. “We know what to do and we have done it. The only way we will fail is from a failure of will on your part and my part. We will not fail. We are accredited, we are excellent, we remain proud of our graduates. These regulatory issues, or issues of longitudinal data, will be solved by the time of the return visit.”
What does this mean?
This sanction is not as serious as “probation.” According to the HLC’s website, five other institutions are currently on notice. These include The University of Phoenix and Cincinnati Christian University.
JCU was told by the HLC that the University must collect data and address issues of concern. Some areas that did not meet HLC criteria during the campus-wide evaluation include assessment and progress of strategic planning, governance, finances, campus communication and morale.
Informing the community
Colleran invited all faculty, staff and administrators to a community meeting on Wednesday, March 11 at 3:30 p.m. in the Kulas Auditorium. Students were notified through an email from Niehoff around 8 p.m. that night.
At the community meeting, Niehoff and Colleran addressed the community about the HLC’s decision, why this happened and how the University plans to move forward.
“We learned a great deal about HLC in the past months,” said Niehoff. “We know higher education is encountering a great deal of suspicion from the public and elected officials. This has impacted HLC and all universities.”
The University acknowledged at the meeting that the HLC originally posted a version of the public disclosure online that included multiple errors.
“There was never any concern from the visiting team regarding diversity, student persistence, completion rates or students’ success,” explained Niehoff.
The initial draft posted by the HLC included those four areas of concern.
Niehoff continued saying, “HLC commended us for our student diversity, our student access initiatives and our graduation rate.”
Areas for improvement
Clarification of learning goals
Niehoff acknowledged that the HLC expects to see additional and consistent evidence of student learning in every course, program and degree.
“The learning goals for each program were not available on our website,” Niehoff said. “This is a more recent expectation of the HLC. HLC also expects to see program and degree learning goals included in our catalog.”
According to Niehoff, the HLC noted that John Carroll did not provide sufficient longitudinal data regarding John Carroll graduates.
“They wish us to use the longitudinal data to further analyze our student learning outcomes,” Niehoff said. “We will do this. I’ve seen the work that’s been done since June.
In six months, we’ve developed and refined learning outcomes for courses, programs and degrees. We have developed global learning expectations of what every graduate of John Carroll would know, do and be.”
Niehoff stressed that data collection in regards to student learning outcomes is the main reason HLC placed JCU on notice.
“For a great part of this, and it’s important for you to understand that it’s my judgment. HLC is focused primarily on assessment here,” Niehoff said to the faculty and staff. “That’s what we heard from the team, that’s what I know from the national conversation. This is about data and the use of data for institutional improvement.”
Niehoff explained that the University will strive to collect and utilize more data to demonstrate students’ success.
“We will do this across the University,” Niehoff told the community. “We will work together for our students, our mission and our great University.
“We will do what is required to meet the HLC criteria now and in the future.”
The University’s plans explained
Colleran outlined the University’s plans to accomplish this goal.
Besides collecting, analyzing and using data schoolwide, the University must first “differentiate” learning outcomes at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Colleran expressed that “this is not the work of months – this is the work of weeks.”
Next, the University must continue to conduct program reviews. Three are scheduled for this year, and the remainder will be reviewed over the course of the next four years. With this, the school must publicize the results of these reviews and compose an assessment plan for each program.
She ended her explanation of the plan by addressing the morale of faculty and staff at John Carroll. Colleran acknowledged that HLC called JCU’s problems with morale “long-standing.” She pondered the meaning of the word before concluding that “we need to get specific and truthful with each other and understand how our interactions will produce the most positive climate for the University community.”
Following Colleran’s statement, Niehoff said that JCU’s faculty and staff must also “[have] an understanding of our campus commitment to demonstrate the quality of our educational outcomes for HLC. But frankly, also for ourselves, so that we can improve and continue to better demonstrate that we accomplish our great mission.”