Accreditation provides assurance to the public, in particular to prospective students, that an organization has been found to meet the agency’s clearly stated requirements and criteria and that there are reasonable grounds for believing that it will continue to meet them. Marian University’s last accreditation visit was in 2005 when the institution received a 10-year reaffirmation of accreditation.
Accreditation provides both public certification of acceptable institutional quality and an opportunity and incentive for self-improvement in the accredited organization. The Commission reaches the conclusion that a college or university meets the Criteria only after the organization opens itself to outside examination by experienced evaluator’s familiar with accrediting requirements and with higher education. The process of accreditation provides the accredited organization with an opportunity for critical self-analysis leading to improvement in quality and for consultation and advice from persons from other organizations.
Accrediting agencies are organizations (or bodies) that establish operating standards for educational or professional institutions and programs, determine the extent to which the standards are met, and publicly announce their findings.
The HLC is the accrediting agency for many colleges and universities in the Midwest region of the country. Its role is to ensure students are receiving a high-quality education and that the institution is operating within the boundaries of its stated mission.
There are two basic types of educational accreditation, one identified as “institutional” and one referred to as “specialized” or “programmatic.” Institutional accreditation normally applies to an entire institution, indicating that each of an institution’s parts is contributing to the achievement of the institution’s objectives, although not necessarily all at the same level of quality. Specialized accreditation normally applies to the evaluation of programs, departments, or schools which usually are parts of a total collegiate or other postsecondary institution. The unit accredited may be as large as a college or school within a university or as small as a curriculum within a discipline.
While many states have established regulations that must be met before an educational organization may operate, in most states such regulations represent a minimum basis for protection of students. State authorization should not be confused with institutional or specialized accreditation. To operate legally, a college or university may need state authorization, but it does not necessarily have to be accredited by an institutional or specialized accrediting association. In fact, an organization must have the appropriate authorization by a state to operate before it can seek affiliation with the Commission.
Institutional accreditation speaks to the overall quality of the organization without making judgments about specific programs. Institutional accreditation is accreditation of all programs, sites, and methods of delivery. The accreditation of individual programs, such as those preparing students to practice a profession, is carried out by specialized or program accrediting bodies that apply specific standards for curriculum and course content. The Commission does not maintain lists of programs offered by its accredited organizations. Each specialized accrediting body publishes a list of programs it accredits. This information also is shown in the annual directories, Accredited Institutions of Postsecondary Education, published by the American Council on Education, and Higher Education Directory, published by Higher Education Publications, which are available in many libraries.
There are several reasons accreditation is important besides ensuring the quality and adherence to academic standards. Accreditation determines a school’s eligibility for participation in federal (Title IV) and state financial aid programs, as well as eligibility for employer tuition assistance. Proper accreditation is integral for the acceptance and transfer of college credit, and is a prerequisite for many graduate programs.
The college will produce an “assurance argument,” which is the institution’s narrative that makes the case that the institution meets the criteria for accreditation (formerly known as the self-study document). It is a self-evaluation that encompasses every aspect of the institution, including educational activities, governance and administration, financial stability, admissions and student personnel services, resources, student academic achievement, organizational effectiveness, and relationships with outside constituencies. It is an opportunity for the college to identify areas where it needs improvement and to help implement change.
Yes. The Commission accredits many organizations that offer courses and programs through various methods of distance delivery. Since the Commission accredits organizations rather than individual programs, it does not maintain listings of such programs. The Commission does provide a list of Internet resources on distance education on its Web site. In addition, the regional associations have developed Best Practices for Electronically Offered Degree and Certificate Programs for those organizations that offer courses or programs through distance delivery (available on the Commission’s website).
No. The college or university to which the student has applied determines transferability of credits and degrees. Transferability depends on the college or university at which credits or degrees were earned, how well the credits mesh with the curriculum offered by the school to which the student wishes to transfer, and how well the student did in the courses. Many organizations choose to consider the accredited status of the college at which the credit or degree was earned as one factor in the transfer decision. Some have specific agreements with other colleges or universities guaranteeing transfer of credits. Organizations should be prepared to explain their institutional policies on transfer and the factors in an individual transfer decision. Students should be skeptical of any school that makes unqualified assertions that its credits will transfer to all other schools. Anyone planning to transfer credits should, at the earliest opportunity, consult the receiving organization about the transfer before taking the courses for transfer.
The Higher Learning Commission does not rank or categorize schools. The Commission evaluates an entire educational institution in terms of its mission and our Criteria for Accreditation. Besides assessing formal educational activities, it evaluates such things as governance and administration, financial stability, admissions and student services, institutional resources, student learning, institutional effectiveness, and relationships with internal and external constituencies.
An undertaking such as this must involve everyone on campus – faculty, staff and students – as well as the off-campus community. The only way to ensure a factual and thorough evaluation of the college is to seek feedback from everyone involved with, benefiting from, or contributing to college programs and activities.