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Northwest College’s recent accreditation report is among the most positive in the history of the institution.
The college received official word of its continued accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) this week following NWC’s Sept. 11-12 comprehensive campus visit by a HLC team. NWC’s next visit is expected to be scheduled in 2025.
“This is an outstanding report that demonstrates a foundation of strength at the college,” NWC President Stefani Hicswa said. “The entire campus, board members and area taxpayers should be very proud of the outcome.”
The accreditation agency’s report is posted on NWC’s website at http://nwc.edu/accreditation/.
In its evaluation, the team ruled that NWC met each of the five criteria for continued accreditation—mission; integrity: ethical and responsible conduct; teaching and learning: quality, resources and support; teaching and learning: evaluation and improvement; and resources, planning and institutional effectiveness.
The report signals that the three areas the HLC flagged for improvement after its last comprehensive visit in 2010—assessment of student learning outcomes, tying budgeting to planning and institutional governance—are no longer concerns.
“That was excellent news and great to have those behind us,” Hicswa emphasized.
The HLC visiting team found that Northwest College has made great strides in several areas since the 2010 visit that was followed up by a “focused visit” in 2013.
“It is clear that the college took seriously recommendations made by the 2013 visiting team,” the report concludes. “It is also clear that the Board of Trustees, administration, faculty and staff are committed to ensuring a culture of improvement and student success. While change can often be difficult, especially when driven by financial factors, it needs to be accepted in order for the college to continue to thrive and meet the needs of its students and the demands of a changing society.”
The report represents another major accreditation victory by allowing the college to choose its “pathway” for future reaccreditation maintenance.
NWC had been in what’s called the “standard pathway” assigned to colleges that had previously received stipulations and concerns during accreditation visits.
“That is enormously positive,” Hicswa emphasized. “We can now leave that small percentage of colleges and universities in the HLC’s 19-state region and move to a new pathway that focuses more on quality assurance and institutional improvement and less on responding to institutional challenges.”
Among the many HLC’s required sub-components, the only one that was “met with concerns” is one related to assessment of student learning. Areas specifically flagged for attention are assessment of NWC’s new general education requirements and non-academic units, the latter of which is currently being addressed on campus.
Accordingly, the college is directed to submit a monitoring report by Dec. 1, 2019, in order to “demonstrate that recently developed components are assessable and that improvements have been made based on findings.”
On the topic of communication, the report notes that “While administration is vested with the role of establishing the means to ensure open communication, engagement and participation needs to come from all sides.”
The commission identified no concerns that prompted a focus visit on particular topics as had occurred after some past visits.
Accreditation is one of the most important ways Northwest proves to its students and various communities that the college’s assessment activities lead to continuous improvement, according to Vice President for Academic Affairs Gerry Giraud, who chaired the college’s Accreditation Steering Committee. NWC’s Assurance Argument, finalized last August after nearly three years of research and writing, provides evidence that Northwest College meets the HLC’s high standards.
“Accreditation allows transfer institutions to accept our students’ credits and students to receive financial aid—basic elements at the core of any institution of higher education,” Giraud explained. “It takes years and an incredible amount of energy for a college to fully examine and evaluate itself before it can present its findings to an accreditation agency.”
Public comments, required by the HLC to be about “substantive matters related to the quality of the institution or its academic programs,” were sought by the college in January 2017.
The HLC is one of six regional accrediting agencies in the U.S. that provides institutional accreditation. It accredits approximately 1,100 institutions of higher education in north central region and is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.