Right now, most of the St. Thomas community is focused on making it to the end of spring semester. Even for staff, faculty and students who don’t exit campus at semester’s end, the more relaxed atmosphere of summer is a welcome change. Those of us charged with coordinating our university’s reaccreditation visit from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) are looking forward to summer too, but we’re thinking about another date as well: fall 2013. That’s when the HLC reviewers arrive on campus, and their visit will represent the culmination of a two and a half year self-study process.
Our three-person team started work in early March, and we’ve been meeting weekly to review reports from the last self-study, get up to speed on reaccreditation requirements, and develop a structure for the work our entire campus will undertake between now and 2013. We also attended the annual HLC Conference in Chicago where we got advice from institutions that have recently completed the accreditation process and heard from HLC staff about upcoming changes to the accreditation system.
HLC requires that we examine our university in light of five criteria: mission, integrity, resources and planning, effective teaching and learning, and substance and rigor. Our plan is to form committees around each of these five criteria. Committee chairs, together with the three of us, the chair of the faculty, the director of Institutional Research, and a designated staff member will serve on a steering committee to help keep the process moving and ensure communication across committees. We hope to select steering committee chairs by early summer, and a call for interested faculty, staff and students to serve on the criteria committees will go out in the fall. We also plan an advisory committee comprised of key institutional leaders to assist as we develop goals for the plan and to offer feedback as needed. This group should be formed in the next few weeks.
We’re committed to a process of honest self-evaluation that involves the entire St. Thomas community. Clearly, one goal of the self-study process is to earn the all-important Higher Learning Commission seal of approval: renewed accreditation. HLC accreditation is a key way we demonstrate accountability for the education we offer, and it is crucial for our ability to provide programs such as federal financial aid. But the self-study process is about more than simply meeting HLC requirements; it’s a chance for us as a community to think about what we want from a process of thoroughly and systematically turning the lens on ourselves and asking, “How are we doing?” We have the chance to craft our own goals for the process, and we would be pleased to hear your input on what those goals should be.
In consultation with the steering and advisory committees, our key task this summer will be to develop the self-study plan. This plan, which will include our goals and an outline of our work leading up to 2013, must be approved by the St. Thomas Board of Trustees at its fall meeting. From there, the plan is presented to the Higher Learning Commission.
In the upcoming month, we’ll be making the rounds to connect with faculty, staff and administrators throughout campus. Come fall, we’ll do the same with students. We look forward to seeing you in person. In the meantime, we invite you to connect with us anytime through phone or e-mail.
Note: The University of St. Thomas was first accredited by the North Central Association, now known as the Higher Learning Commission, in 1916. The last accreditation evaluation site visit was in fall 2003.