One of the best parts of belonging to an education community is that we get to start our new year in a very definable way. Knowing that we must be ready to start school on the first day of class gives us a very defined target and helps us shape our activities and plans accordingly. Although many things we do as a campus are continuous, the beginning of classes each academic year always feels like a fresh start.
The year ahead promises to be busy, challenging, and eventful. For the past year, many members of the campus community have been engaged in formulating a new strategic plan. The future image, messages, and implementation strategies for the campus will be shaped by this plan.
Our challenge this year will be to engage all of our constituencies – faculty, staff, students, elected officials, donors, friends, and alumni – in promoting the value of a college education and especially the value of a U-M degree obtained at the Flint campus. At the same time, we need to continue to add value to what we are by identifying and pursuing new academic programs, planning and implementing a greater variety of internships and co-curricular activities for students, continuing to enhance our physical environment, and developing a greater variety of events that promote learning for the public.
In order to plan and implement successful programs and services that add value to what the campus offers the region, we employees and supporters of the campus need to continue our own learning. We must be well versed in the trends, issues, skills, and knowledge that will keep us ahead of the curve. Whether studying new management techniques, exploring the means to make the campus more diverse, identifying new technology applications for a class, or finding new ways to perform a familiar task – all of us must continue to learn and grow in order to add value to the work we do. All of these challenges are outlined in our new plan.
One of the biggest learning challenges we will all face this year will be to understand the Higher Learning Commission’s new Criteria for Accreditation and new process for maintaining accreditation. Life as we know it is about to change! I learned about these changes this month at a special HLC meeting in Phoenix.
First, the Criteria for Accreditation have been revised and reorganized. Besides a set of Core Components for each Criteria, there will now be a set of minimum expectations to be met, a significant departure from the past. Second, the process for reaccreditation will change significantly. Institutions who become part of the Open Pathway Model (I am presuming that we will likely become one of them, based on the requirements for participation we were shown at the meeting) will continuously provide evidence that expectations of the Core Components are being met through the creation and maintenance of an Evidence File and an Assurance Argument. Two formal Assurance Reviews will take place in the ten-year cycle: Year 4 (no visit) and Year 10 (campus visit). Third, each institution will undertake a Quality Initiative at least once every ten years (sample: “the institution pursues a strategic initiative to improve its financial position”).
So, my interpretation of what was presented at the HLC Regional Forum is that life as we know it (in the words of one speaker) is about to change in some rather dramatic ways. I’ve been a peer reviewer off and on since 1988, and have participated in the preparation of numerous self-studies, focused visits, and the like. What I see on the horizon is a pretty radical departure from the past – no more “phonebook-sized” self-studies, no more “telling the story” and depending on the narrative. No more huge self-study committees and sub-committees that come together every ten years for a herculean effort at creating a document and a resource room. Instead, accreditation will become a continuous process to ensure that criteria and expectations are being met.
So, what’s next? After reviewing revisions and changes, the criteria, expectations, and new accreditation models will be discussed by the HLC Board at its fall meeting, and presented at the Annual Meeting, March 30 – April 3, in Chicago. At that time, we will have a better idea of what changes we will need to make to address both the criteria and the process for reaccreditation. It is pretty clear to me that a very different level of faculty/staff/administrative support and engagement is going to be required but I won’t know precisely what exactly that means until the final documents are distributed in March. I will be sharing the documents I brought back from the HLC meeting with various faculty groups and the leadership team so that we can begin to “get our heads around” this significant, game-changing new process. While daunting, this will actually be an opportunity to think in very different ways about what we do and how we assure the public that we are what we say we are.
Ruth J. Person