Frequently Asked Questions
Higher Learning Commission Accreditation
What is the Higher Learning Commission (HLC)? What happened to the North Central Association (NCA)?
The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) is an independent corporation that was founded in 1895 as one of six regional institutional accreditors in the United States. HLC, one of six regional associations that accredit schools and colleges in the United States, accredits degree-granting post-secondary educational institutions in the North Central region of the United States. Although most of the colleges and universities that the NCA Higher Learning Commission accredits are in the upper Midwest, its geographical range extends from West Virginia to Arizona.
What is HLC accreditation? Why is it important?
While many academic agencies accredit particular programs of study (education, nursing, business, etc.), the Higher Learning Commission and other regional accrediting agencies are responsible for assuring that colleges and universities meet certain standards in terms of their missions, operations, and activities in teaching and student learning, discovery and promotion of knowledge, and service.
Accreditation is an assurance to the public that an institution is properly prepared to do its job. On a more practical level, the HLC and the other accrediting agencies have been designated as the "gatekeepers" for federal funds in higher education, including student financial aid. Unaccredited schools are not eligible for many kinds of federal support. For more information, visit the HLC website.What does HLC look for when it accredits colleges and universities?
The five Criteria for Accreditation are:
- Integrity: Ethical and Responsible Conduct
- Teaching and Learning: Quality, Resources, and Support
- Teaching and Learning: Evaluation and Improvement
- Resources, Planning, and Institutional Effectiveness
View the Criteria and the Core Components
When will the HLC re-accreditation visit take place?
April 17-19, 2017
What will the team do during the visit?
Who will be on the peer review team?
The campus will be visited by a Peer Review Team of administrators, staff people, and faculty who have been accepted to the Peer Review Corps by the HLC. All will have gone through training for such visits and will be familiar with the Criteria for Accreditation, AQIP categories and expectations and other components of a Comprehensive Evaluation. Most of the team members will be experienced reviewers.
The team will already have received Ridgewater College's Systems Portfolio and HLC's response, the Systems Appraisal. They will have access to all of Ridgewater College's AQIP action projects from the last 8 years. During the visit, they will seek to validate the content of the Portfolio in terms of the strengths we have declared and data that support them, as well as concerns that need attention or issues that may confront us in the future.
Team members will have meetings with key individuals and groups from across the campus and will have open meetings that are less structured. Most of these activities will take place on Monday,Tuesday or Wednesday, April 17-19, 2017.
How will the findings be reported?
The HLC review team will write a report that addresses the Criteria for Accreditation and send a draft to the campus a few weeks after the visit. The team will note the Components that have been met, any that have not been, and any qualifications or concerns regarding them. After receiving the draft, the President will have a chance to correct factual errors, and the final report will be submitted to the HLC no more than nine weeks after the visit.
What kinds of recommendations might the team make?
The team may simply recommend continued accreditation with no recommended follow-up activities before the next scheduled visit in 2025 or later. If an institution is in serious trouble, the team could recommend probation or even withdrawal of accreditation. In between there is a range of possible actions, including required progress reports on how the institution is dealing with particular issues, monitoring reports dealing with specific issues that require careful and ongoing attention, and contingency reports dealing with changes taking place that affect the mission or nature of the institution. HLC staff estimate that 85 percent of institutions will have some kind of activity required.
What will happen to the report when the visit is over?
Ridgewater College must review the report, both for the validation of the things that we are doing well and for advice about ways in which we can improve what we are doing. Particular issues may be referred to committees and/or departments for examination and action. If follow-up action is required by HLC, Ridgewater College must show that it is addressing the issues identified by the peer review team.
What do we hope to learn from this process?
We hope to receive confirmation that Ridgewater College's major projects to increase student success and equity are on the right track and that we are meeting the obligations of our mission to provide a transformative education to students. We also hope to receive good advice about ways in which we can better meet and advance our mission.