UND begins work on reaccreditation plan
Students, faculty and staff will be engaged in vital four-year effort
While it might be tempting to view the University of North Dakota’s upcoming 10-year reaccreditation report as a term paper that’s not due for three years, Interim Provost Debbie Storrs wants students, faculty and staff to get the assignment started.
“This is a big deal, and through shared governance, we’ll all be part of the self-study submitted to the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) in June 2023,” she said.
Every 10 years, UND undergoes a comprehensive evaluation conducted by HLC to reaffirm its institutional reaccreditation based on the organization’s criteria and guided by compliance with U.S. Department of Education regulations. HLC accredits colleges and universities in a 19-state region and is one of seven accrediting agencies in the United States.
“In a sense, accreditation is like a seal of approval,” said Jeff VanLooy, chair of the University Senate and associate professor in Earth System Science & Policy. “It shows everyone – students and parents of prospective students looking at the reputations of different colleges – that they’re getting a good education. It’s a stamp saying this university has good quality, is reputable and will help you get a good job in the future.”
Tim Burrows, UND’s director of assessment and accreditation, serves as the project manager for the University’s reaccreditation process, which includes submitting a 30,000-word reaccreditation report to HLC. He said everyone from Incoming President Andy Armacost – who will assume the office June 1 – to the Provost’s Office, to new and senior faculty, staff and student government will be involved in writing the report.
“We’re fortunate President Armacost just went through the reaccreditation at his former institution, the U.S. Air Force Academy,” Storrs noted. “He’s quite familiar with the process and how significant it is.”
Armacost said he’s excited about the opportunity to go through the accreditation process again, this time at UND.
“We should relish the chance to demonstrate to a team of peers where UND excels and where we need to focus additional attention,” he said. “This process is both reflective and consultative, and it is essential to our growth as a university.”
The report will cover five HLC criteria: The University’s mission; ethical and responsible conduct; resources and support for teaching and learning; evaluation and improvement of teaching and learning; and resources, planning and institutional effectiveness. In addition, it will address compliance with federal policies, such as Title IV for student financial aid and Title IX, which prohibits sexual discrimination.
“Accreditation is not a separate process from what we do on a daily basis,” Armacost said. “If you look at the HLC criteria for accreditation, you will quickly see that we are evaluated in areas that all universities should be focusing on: a clear mission, a commitment to strong educational programs, a heavy focus on continuous improvement, sound strategic planning, and proper alignment of resources.”
A real team effort
As Burrows noted, “It’s going to be a big team effort that’s going to ultimately include representatives from faculty, from the administration, student affairs, staff people from the registrar’s office and a lot of different folks with specialties in different areas.
“When we write our reaccreditation report, it’s quite a lengthy process and in-depth narrative,” he added. “The goal is to work with as many people with those specialties as possible, and to make sure we’re getting the correct information out while being as transparent as possible.”
Burrows said HLC will peer review UND’s report, which may then be followed by requests for clarification or more information. The final report must be submitted by June 1, 2023. Normally, he said HLC will take two to three months to review the report and then give UND 30 days to respond to any additional inquiries. In spring 2024, HLC will send a team to UND for an on-site visit.
“They’ll meet with students, faculty and staff and see the physical state of the campus for themselves,” Burrows explained. “It gives them a chance to really dive into any further questions. After that, it might be another couple of months before UND receives its 10-year accreditation.”
UND’s plan for reaccreditation was written before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the face of higher education across the country. Storrs said she expects HLC to also focus on how UND made decisions and accommodations in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“They’ll be interested in how we adjusted to COVID-19 and the impact on student outcomes,” she said. “UND’s adaptations to the pandemic will be very visible in our self-study because it is it is shaping our behavior and our institutional choices.”
Pride in faculty competence
VanLooy said faculty involvement and participation in UND’s reaccreditation process is essential.
“For faculty, it’s about showing competence,” he said. “Many of us have put in over a decade pursuing our own education to get to the point where we can become professors. This is important to us, not just for the survival of the institution, but also because we’re proud of what we do as legitimate educators in our fields.”
Burrows stressed that reaccreditation is also an opportunity for UND students to expand their knowledge of higher education.
“The students are the primary stakeholders of the University; we’re here for them,” he said. “It’s important for students to understand how reaccreditation works because it’s ultimately a checks-and-balances process that stems from the Department of Education.”
The goal, Storrs related, is to make UND better by taking a close look at itself, identify where the University might need to expend more energy, resources and time in ways that result in improvement.
“This is a shared labor of love because it’s an important common benefit for all of us,” Storrs explained. “If we can come out of this process with a heightened awareness of who we are, see our strengths and address issues as we work through them, we’ll be a much stronger institution and remain accredited.”
Armacost emphasized the need for UND to demonstrate its commitment to delivering excellence in the classroom and across campus.
“Preparing for the accreditation review will require involvement from across the entire campus,” he said. “This is not only about our academic programs, but how we, as a complete and connected institution, deliver our mission to provide learning, discovery, and community engagement opportunities for developing tomorrow’s leaders.”
Burrows admitted that the reaccreditation process is hard work that can be tedious, but a successful outcome makes it well worth the effort.
“When you get that reaccreditation stamp of approval back and you did well, it’s a great ‘mission accomplished’ feeling from everybody who took part, a feeling of pride in a job well done,” he said. “But to be successful, we need the support of the entire UND community.”