HLC Accreditation: Preparing for Your Onsite Visit

Posted by Joe Bauman, M.S. on Apr 2, 2019 3:49:15 PM

So, your institution has an upcoming reaffirmation of accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission (HLC)? You’re in good company: the Higher Learning Commission is the largest regional accreditor in the United States, serving institutions in 19 states. Here are some tips to help you put your best foot forward and prepare for a successful reaffirmation.

First, HLC recently revised its criteria for accreditation. The HLC Board of Trustees reviewed an early version of the proposed revisions at their February 2018 meeting. The HLC Board reviewed the draft changes in addition to comments from member institutions in November 2018. The Board approved the revisions in February 2019, and the revised criteria are effective September 1, 2020. The final version is available on HLC’s website.

If you are preparing your reaffirmation report, you will probably find it useful to crosswalk the current Criteria with the new revisions to the Criteria. This will help you to be prepared for the coming changes while maintaining continuity with the reaffirmation reports your institution has submitted in the past. SPOL’s consultants have all gone through the reaffirmation process themselves and can assist you with the crosswalk or any other questions you may have. The revised Criteria will be available in SPOL’s Accreditation module.

Second, the HLC is the only regional accrediting agency that offers member institutions a choice of three different pathways to maintain their accreditation: the Standard Pathway, the AQIP Pathway, and the Open Pathway. The Standard Pathway and the Open Pathway are ten-year accreditation cycles, while the AQIP Pathway is an eight-year accreditation cycle. The AQIP Pathway uses six Pathway Categories. If your institution is on the AQIP Pathway, you should create a crosswalk showing how your responses to the AQIP Pathway Categories align to the HLC Criteria for Accreditation.

When preparing for a comprehensive evaluation, put your reaffirmation team together early, perhaps two years before the comprehensive evaluation is due. Include subject matter experts from across the institution to cover the topics addressed in each Criteria. The size of your reaffirmation team will depend on the size of your institution. In smaller institutions, people tend to wear many hats, while in larger institutions it is common for people to be more specialized. Plan for multiple stages of writing and review before the report is ready for submission. If possible, engage different people at each stage of the review/edit process to get fresh eyes on the report.

The SPOL Accreditation module can help you to manage the workflow at every stage in the process of your HLC reaffirmation, from setting up your writing team, to publishing the final report, to preparing a Focused Report based on the feedback of the off-site reviewers.

After your Focused Report, your attention will turn to preparing for your on-site visit. The chair of the on-site team will be in contact with you regarding travel arrangements and other accommodations needed by the on-site reviewers. Your on-site chair and your HLC Staff Liaison will work with you to make sure the logistics are smooth. The most important thing to remember is that the on-site reviewers are peers and colleagues from other institutions like yours. Treat them as colleagues and as guests, and not as adversaries, and your visit will be a smooth one.

Topics: Accreditation, Institutional Effectiveness, Institutional Excellence