John Carroll University was put on notice by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) in March of last semester. Since then, JCU faculty and staff have been working to bring the University up to HLC standards.
One of the problems being addressed is having legitimate evidence that students are learning and that John Carroll is an effective institution. Each department is going through an academic program review. This review calls for each department to re-evaluate procedures and assess student learning. This includes looking at all of the courses in a department including major requirements, making sure that everything is coherent and seeing that the department has good academic standards. “Many thanks are due to the hard work of the faculty to improve assessment,” said Jeanne Colleran, provost and academic vice president. “Their response is one of the reasons I feel confident about our next visit.”
Two new offices were created to address the HLC requirements: the Office of Academic Assessment and the Office of Institutional Effectiveness. The director of assessment is Todd Bruce and the new provost for effectiveness is Nicholas Santilli, a nationally recognized leader in planning and accreditation. He and Catherine Rosemary, head of the department of education and school psychology, are the chairs of the University’s self-study group, which meets once a week.
Chair of the English department, John McBratney, said in reference to the changes in assessment, “I don’t think we’ll necessarily be better teachers, but I think we’ll be better at knowing when our teaching is working and when it isn’t.”
The idea of assessment has been articulated and implemented in each department through the syllabi used for each class. Every syllabus must outline the learning goals and objectives for that course. Chair of the Faculty Council and mathematics professor, Barbara D’Ambrosia, said the faculty is also “Working on better communication processes between the faculty and administration.”
The administration and faculty members have had several meetings since being put on notice. Meetings included break-out sessions to discuss University learning goals and the strategic plan. This plan covers budget decisions, programming decisions, communication between different groups, morale and improving shared governance between the faculty and the University. “I’ve seen people from many departments buckling down to make sure that we’re reinstated in the HLC’s good graces,” said McBratney.
The University strategic planning group is currently working on the third draft of the plan for the University. “We will be asking the student government, the staff council and the faculty council to review and endorse this plan before we send it to the Board of Directors for their approval,” said Colleran.
To assess the issue of faculty morale, in the spring of last semester all employees of the University were given a survey by a company called, “Great Colleges to Work for”. The purpose was to gauge satisfaction with all different aspects of university life. Questions focused on the survey taker’s specific job, how much support they receive from their supervisor and upper university leadership, as well as how they thought communication between faculty and staff was.
“When we dig down deeper into data and get a sense of where we’re having problems, then we can start asking specific questions about those areas,” said D’Ambrosia.
Once the problem areas have been identified, they can begin to figure out ways to improve them. The data was collected over the summer and is being analyzed by the Office of Institutional Effectiveness.
“While we are not at the end of the process of working to satisfy HLC’s expectations, we are moving ahead with focus, collaboration, and commitment,” said Colleran. The university’s self-study report is due July 1, 2016 and the HLC will return to campus for a focus visit in September of 2016.