The University of St. Thomas received formal notification March 24 that its accreditation has been renewed by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

The university’s accreditation will continue, with the next scheduled comprehensive evaluation in the 2023-2024 academic year.

The commission’s six-member peer evaluation team visited St. Thomas Nov. 11-13, 2013. The team’s recommendation, published in the “Report of Comprehensive Evaluation Visit,” stated: “The University of St. Thomas is a mature institution with a clear mission, a stable financial base, sound educational programs, and strong leadership from faculty and administrators.”

Accreditation is important, remarked Dr. Lucy Payne, accreditation liaison officer, because it shows that St. Thomas is a high-quality institution and it allows the university to offer federal financial aid.

“Accreditation has been a part of university life for over a century. It is voluntary process that affirms both internally and externally that a university has met a set of established educational standards,” commented Dr. Susan Huber, executive vice president and provost. “Although the self-study and preparatory process for accreditation is extremely labor intensive, St. Thomas faculty and staff welcome the opportunity to reflect on how they are meeting the criteria set forth by the Higher Learning Commission. It is the appropriate way to let the public know that academic quality makes a difference at the University of St. Thomas.”

The Higher Learning Commission maintains five criteria for accreditation:

  1. Mission
  2. Integrity: Ethical and Responsible Conduct
  3. Teaching and Learning: Quality, Resources, and Support
  4. Teaching and Learning: Evaluation and Improvement
  5. Resources, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness

The process of reaccreditation began in earnest about three years ago with a self-study working group that included two faculty co-chairs, five committees comprised of 46 faculty, administrators and staff from across the institution, and Institutional Effectiveness staff members Dr. Marty Johnston (Physics), Dr. Lucy Payne (Academic Affairs) and Dr. Wendy Wyatt (COJO), under the direction of Huber, who led the effort.

The self-study is a focused effort to prepare for the commission’s site visit and document that the institution meets the accreditation criteria. The self-study not only addresses the five criteria but also looks beyond the criteria to help institutions with continuous improvement.

“The work with HLC is ongoing, though, because of what accreditation addresses in terms of quality. Many of our everyday operations, such as faculty qualification and transfer policies, are part of the criteria,” Payne remarked. “The criteria addresses things that we do all the time, but as you approach a reaccreditation visit, you spend two or more years studying yourself and making sure you meet the criteria, and we did that.”

The self-study resulted in a 157-page book detailing how the university meets the commission’s five criteria. Along with self-study, the committees and leadership created an online evidence room that houses all of the documents that support what was written in the self-study.

Accreditation is not just about academics. “It’s truly about the whole institution. … It’s expanded over time from ‘Do you have high-quality academic programs?’ to ‘Are you a high-quality institution?’” Payne said. She credits the university’s full accreditation to the “hard work of everyone across the institution on a day-to-day basis.”

Self-study conclusion

The concluding notes of the self-study featured observations about institutional strengths as well as reflections on moving forward in the years ahead. Among the notes it was written:

The results of our self-study illustrate that we have a lot to be proud of as members of the St. Thomas community. We are an institution with a strong commitment to mission and nearly 2,000 talented and dedicated faculty and staff who bring that commitment to life. We focus on giving our students an education that will prepare them to succeed in their professional lives but also to make their profession and world a better place.

“Not all schools are accredited and not all schools need accreditation,” Huber remarked. “St. Thomas, as a traditional brick-and-mortar institution, will continue to seek accreditation so that it can continue to offer students a quality education.”