With NMU currently attempting to reaffirm its accreditation, it has become clear that the process hasn’t gone as smoothly as it should have.
Accreditation is an evaluation system by which universities are measured to ensure they meet a national standard of acceptance.
NMU, along with many other Michigan universities, is accredited through the Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP) of the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
In the state of Michigan alone, there are about 50 accredited universities. Without this accreditation, NMU would put its students at a great disadvantage. Students from unaccredited universities typically find it difficult to transfer to an accredited university or gain acceptance into graduate school.
AQIP universities must reaffirm their accreditation every seven years. They must meet all HLC standards and demonstrate that they are focused on constant improvement. The most comprehensive measurement tool for judging AQIP schools is the Systems Portfolio, which is submitted periodically between reaffirmations.
After submitting its 2006 Systems Portfolio, NMU was informed that, among other things, it failed to “provide clear evidence of how NMU assesses its effectiveness or how it tracks continuous improvement” and that it “rarely uses internal benchmarking and comparative data from external sources.”
Essentially, the university was accused of not doing a sufficient job of self-evaluation. For numerous departments, there was no acceptable system for evaluating whether students were actually learning during their time at NMU.
Without improvement in these areas, Northern would not be able to receive accreditation.
In the last couple of years, those departments have begun to make a greater effort to assess the performance of both the faculty and the students. But the fact is that the administration should have already been able to consistently demonstrate improvement, on a campus-wide basis.
At the end of March, the HLC will send a group of people to Marquette to assess NMU. They will talk to faculty, staff and students about the university and will, in part, use what they find to determine whether Northern will retain its accreditation.
While a ton of work went into correcting these errors for the recently submitted 2009 Systems Portfolio, the task isn’t over, yet. In fact, by AQIP standards, which call for “continuous quality improvement,” the task is never over.