NMU moves to renew accreditation

kyle.whitney

On Friday, Jan. 23, NMU took a step toward retaining its accreditation by submitting the document required to secure that designation.

Accreditation is a quality assurance process under which an institution is evaluated by an external body to determine if national, or regional, educational standards are met. NMU is accredited through the Academic Quality Improvement Project (AQIP), which operates through the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The HLC is a part of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and provides membership to degree-granting institutions in 19 states.

Cynthia Prosen is the associate provost for Academic Affairs and the dean of Graduate Studies, as well as NMU’s AQIP coordinator. She said that, up to this point, the process has been campus-wide and has involved numerous people.

“I feel great,” she said. “We had wonderful participation and I’m feeling very, very good about this.”

Accreditation allows colleges across the country to hold each other to similar academic standards. If a student from an unaccredited institution plans to transfer to another school or move on to graduate school, they may have trouble, as schools without accreditation are often viewed as existing below the national standard.

Universities in AQIP must have their accreditation reaffirmed every seven years. In the intervening time, the institution is expected to have “continuous quality improvement.” This improvement is marked, in part, through periodically submitting a Systems Portfolio for assessment.

In the feedback from NMU’s previous Systems Portfolio, submitted in 2006, the HLC highlighted areas in which Northern needed to improve as an institution. The previous Systems Portfolio failed to include “meaningful learning outcomes, targets, data, results, processes or action plans for evaluating (student learning),” according to the Systems Appraisal.

This meant that NMU was not successfully demonstrating that its students were learning while at the university.

Since that time, the NMU faculty has pushed each department to develop an outcomes assessment plan, by which to judge student learning.

“Every department on campus has to have an outcomes assessment plan and they do, so we have been successful,” Prosen said. “One hundred percent of our academic departments now have a plan that is on file.”

In addition, on Thursday, Jan. 22, Dr. Susan Hatfield, a national outcomes assessment expert, came to campus to give tips on establishing outcomes assessment plans within departments.

Prosen said that another concern with the previous Systems Portfolio is that it was lacking in graphs and charts.

“We have lots of data in this report. We were criticized last time with not having enough data. If you look at the charts and the tables we had in the original report, we had about 10. We have roughly 160 in this report.”

Representatives of AQIP will also be on campus March 25-27. They will meet with individuals and groups around campus concerning NMU’s plans for continuous improvement. Prosen added that continuous improvement is the long-term goal for NMU.

“We are getting better at that and that is kind of what AQIP is all about. We’re a good institution and we’re getting better.”