Accred­itors visited the college this week. | Col­legian

Now the wait begins.

Five accred­itors from the Higher Learning Com­mission visited campus Monday through Wednesday, as a part of the college’s com­pre­hensive eval­u­ation for reac­cred­i­tation. The college will receive the results in the next few weeks.

Accred­i­tation is a cer­ti­fi­cation from a regional group of member col­leges, such as the HLC, that says an insti­tution of higher edu­cation meets its cri­teria and federal require­ments. Atten­dance to an accredited insti­tution is often required to attend graduate pro­grams, par­tic­ipate in NCAA ath­letics, and receive federal financial aid.

For­tu­nately, Hillsdale’s accred­i­tation is pretty safe, said George Allen, director of insti­tu­tional research.

“An insti­tution has to be in dreadful shape to lose accred­i­tation,” Allen said. “Worst case sce­nario here is they say: ‘You’re not doing XYZ to our sat­is­faction, so you have to get into gear for these, and here are your extra reporting require­ments on those sub­jects.’”

Hillsdale entered its final year of its 10-year Open Pathway accred­i­tation cycle in January.

In December, the school sub­mitted its Assurance Argument, an online expla­nation of how Hillsdale meets its goals and the HLC’s cri­teria.

The accred­itors toured campus and met with faculty, staff, and college lead­ership to discuss the five cri­teria it needs to meet per­taining to the college’s mission, integrity, aca­demic quality, aca­demic eval­u­ation, and effec­tiveness. They also held three open forums in which faculty, staff, and stu­dents pro­vided feedback on Hillsdale’s ability to meet the require­ments.

“We’ve enjoyed our time on campus,” Sandy Cassady, the accred­iting team leader and the dean of the College of Health and Human Ser­vices at St. Ambrose Uni­versity in Iowa, said at the forum. “We’ve had some good, candid con­ver­sa­tions.”

Junior Calvin Kinney attended a forum on Monday at the request of Dean of Men Aaron Petersen because he is a res­ident assistant.

“I thought it was good that they lis­tened to a student’s per­spective,” Kinney said, adding, “Accred­i­tation is reas­surance to the student body that Hillsdale is living up to what it says it is doing.”

It is the first time Hillsdale is com­pleting the Assurance Argument, after the HLC moved Hillsdale to the new Open Pathway about four years ago.

The new pathway requires Hillsdale to com­plete more paperwork required by the U.S. Edu­cation Department, despite Hillsdale not taking federal funds.

According to Allen, it shows the trend in changes to accred­i­tation. In the 1960s, the function of accred­iting insti­tu­tions changed when the Edu­cation Department made them the gate­keepers of federal financial aid. Since then, reg­u­lation and scrutiny of the accred­iting bodies has increased.

From that, the Edu­cation Department can influence the direction of higher edu­cation, said Mark Maier, assistant to the provost.

The increased reg­u­lation also means more demands from col­leges, even those that do not receive gov­ernment money such as Hillsdale, Allen said.

Also new are require­ments in year four and year five to nine of the accred­i­tation cycle. In 2022, Hillsdale will need to update its Assurance Argument. Starting in 2023, Hillsdale will submit a Qual­i­tivity Ini­tiative pro­posal on which it will provide a report by 2027. Common ini­tia­tives focus on student success, the incor­po­ration of tech­nology, and growing campus culture.

“Now it’s sup­posed to be this con­tinuous rela­tionship where there’s always some­thing going on,” Allen said.

While this means more paperwork for the college, which resulted in the cre­ation of Allen’s position, the final-year com­pre­hensive review has lessened in extent.

Before switching pathways, Hillsdale had to have a whole room of file evi­dence that vis­iting accred­itors would read to back up its self-study. The self-study was a large book the college had to write explaining the college’s goals and pro­grams. The Assurance Argument has replaced it on the Open Pathway.

Now, all evi­dence is uploaded online to Dropbox and is less exhaustive, according to Allen. Instead, the mate­rials are sup­posed to be rep­re­sen­tative examples of the defense Hillsdale presents in the argument. Addi­tionally, the accred­itors’ visit was shorter: they had meetings for a day and a half instead of two and a half days.

Accred­i­tation has also moved toward demanding more sta­tis­tical infor­mation.

Some of this, however, is good for Hillsdale, Allen said, as it has exposed gaps in trans­parency and data recording. The HLC requires the college to publish its student outcome rates pub­licly. Allen worked with the career ser­vices office and the college’s website man­agers to publish that online.

“That is great for the insti­tution, because those numbers are great for Hillsdale,” Allen said. “In this case, it’s given us a decent idea that will tie into mar­keting for the school.”

After the accred­itors who visited campus this week submit their report and rec­om­men­da­tions to the HLC, the com­mission will review the findings and can edit any of the sug­ges­tions. Allen said the accred­itors told him that happens about 13 percent of the time.

Pres­ident Larry Arnn will be the first to see the report and then will decide on what happens with the report from the HLC. Last time, the com­mission pro­vided some rec­om­men­da­tions to the college and asked for interim reports on its general edu­cation assessment, program assessment, and the Van Andel Graduate School of States­manship.

The accred­iting team may request more doc­u­ments before sub­mitting its report on Hillsdale to the HLC. Mostly, though, the college just antic­i­pates its results.

“We’ll find out if they found what we pre­sented sat­is­factory,” Allen said. “At this point, we’re really just waiting for the rec­om­men­da­tions of the team.”


  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    Since Hillsdale College is trying to attract the same top stu­dents as other leading edu­ca­tional insti­tu­tions it makes sensed to work with an Accred­iting group like this and see where the college stands with respect to it’s com­petitors. The other side of that is, any rec­om­men­da­tions from this Group need to be taken with the under­standing that HC accepts no gov­ernment funding-so any pro­posals to bring the school inline with gov­ernment ini­tia­tives that the Hillsdale Lead­ership don’t support will not be embraced. Hillsdale needs to be judged on their aca­demic offerings and the per­for­mance of their stu­dents, not the political ide­ology they embrace.