What is accreditation?
Accreditation is the process that ensures the academic quality of an institution. Accreditation is voluntarily sought by institutions and is conferred by non-governmental bodies. In the United States, accreditation is provided through a network of geographically located peer professional groups. In Illinois, the group is the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association, and UIS has been an accredited member of NCA since 1975.
Accreditation provides assurance to both the public and prospective students that an organization has been found to meet a recognized accrediting body’s clearly stated requirements and criteria.
What aspects of the university does the Higher Learning Commission evaluate?
Because the Higher Learning Commission accredits an entire institution, not just specific programs or departments, the accreditation site team explores not only the academic programming but also the financial, administrative, and interpersonal aspects of the university. The Higher Learning Commission does recognize that universities differ a great deal among themselves, so they are not imposing an isolated vision of what should occur on a campus. Instead, they will be measuring the university against general criteria that apply to higher education as a whole and against the university’s own mission statement.
The Higher Learning Commission has a specific list of five criteria that it uses to evaluate institutions. In brief, the criteria are:
Criterion One — Mission: The institution’s mission is clear and articulated publicly; it guides the institution’s operations.
Criterion Two — Integrity: Ethical and Responsible Conduct: The institution acts with integrity; its conduct is ethical and responsible.
Criterion Three — Teaching and Learning: Quality, Resources, and Support: The institution provides high quality education, wherever and however its offerings are delivered.
Criterion Four — Teaching and Learning: Evaluation and Improvement: The institution demonstrates responsibility for the quality of its educational programs, learning environments and support services, and it evaluates their effectiveness for student learning through processes designed to promote continuous improvement.
Criterion Five — Resources, Planning, and Institutional Effectiveness: The institution’s resources, structures, and processes are sufficient to fulfill its mission, improve the quality of its educational offerings, and respond to future challenges and opportunities.
UIS began preparing for accreditation and the self-study in the fall of 2005 when the Provost and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs appointed three co-chairs of the self-study process. To view a timeline of the process since then, please go here.
The three co-chairs of the HLC Institutional Self-Study are the Associate Vice Chancellor of Undergraduate Education, a Faculty Associate to the Provost’s office, and a faculty member. The members of the Steering Committee were selected in consultation with the Vice Chancellor of Student and Administrative Services and the Chancellor. The committee consists of thirteen members who represent staff, faculty, and administration, each of the four colleges, undergraduate and graduate education, student affairs, institutional research, budget and planning, the assessment task force, library and technology support services, and online education.
Site visitors will explore the university to observe programs and talk to people. They will spend time in a variety of areas of our campus, and they will be sure to talk to faculty, staff, and students. As they do this, the visitors will be likely to ask questions rooted in the five criteria. So, they might ask things like:
- What is the mission of the University?
- Are you clear about UIS’ mission and how you fit in?
- Where are you going, as you move into the future, as a university and as a program or unit?
- How do you know you are successful? How do you measure effectiveness?
- How do you relate to the public and to all the stakeholders who are outside the university?
When you are asked questions like this, you should answer them candidly and thoughtfully. The interactions of the site team with our faculty, staff, and students will provide the best evidence of our fulfillment of the accreditation criteria.