NMU’s accreditation reaffirmed by HLC

Cameron Witbeck

The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) announced last month that NMU’s accreditation has been reaffirmed, which allows the university to continue its eligibility for federal aid.

The seven-year cycle of accreditation that is a part of HLC’s Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP) ensures that NMU will be accredited until the 2016-2017 school year. The HLC reconfirmed NMU’s accreditation on Feb. 17 after determining that the university had met all requirements of AQIP, which include categories like “helping students learn” and “understanding students’ and other stakeholders’ needs.”

Cynthia Prosen, associate provost for academic affairs at NMU, said that accreditation is vital not just for the institution but also for the students.

“(It means) everything. If we were not accredited, students would not be able to receive federal financial aid and that’s probably the biggest thing from the student perspective,” she said.

Prosen said that NMU students, staff and faculty all worked together on assuring NMU’s reaccreditation.

“From our point of view, non-accreditation is not an option,” she said. “I can’t tell you how hard (everyone at NMU) worked to ensure our accreditation.”

The HLC, a regional accreditation organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, offers AQIP as a way to gauge the continuous development of member institutions. Prosen said that one way the HLC measures this is by looking at an institution’s action projects. Two of NMU’s AQIP action projects focus on how the laptop initiative affects students and their education.

“We were visited by members of the HLC a year ago. Everywhere they went they saw people working on their laptops. They asked, ‘How do you know it’s working?’” said Prosen. “One of the projects that we have is investigating how students are using their laptops (in their educations).”

AQIP is one of two programs offered by the HLC for accreditation. Prosen said that the concentration of AQIP is on ensuring the continuous quality improvement of an institution.

“The idea is that when the point comes, you’re ready. You don’t have to have 30 people in an office for two years getting accreditation ready. You are constantly improving,” Prosen said.

Carrie Caine, the assistant to the vice president for legal and government affairs for the HLC, said that the focus of the action projects are often to help institutions build good programs which will ensure long-term quality.

“Action projects are things that every campus does, but they build them into their accreditation and it helps them through the continuous quality improvement mindset,” Caine said.

While regional accreditation helps a university in practical terms, like eligibility for aid and accepting transfer credits, there are several less quantifiable benefits, said Caine.

“There is a lot of learning that goes on in AQIP. There are a lot of events that go on where people get together and discuss how to implement these programs, and especially in a time like this when states are cutting funding to state institutions … there is something about that that is very representative of how the higher educational system works,” she said.

John Hausaman, the process administrator for accreditation services at the HLC, said that participation in the AQIP community allows schools to have a transfer of ideas.

“I think it’s a good example of peers from other institutions being able to learn best practices from other schools. They might learn of programs that can be applicable at their own school,” Hausaman said.

There are some misconceptions about what accreditation means and what the HLC’s purpose is, he said.

“A lot of times you’ll get the general public looking for rankings, you know, ‘Tell me how good this school is compared to others.’ We don’t rank schools,” Hausaman said.