POWELL, Wyo. - After waiting over three months, Northwest College received a draft report on its accreditation status Tuesday, March 8, from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The college is responding this week to factual errors contained in the draft.
The report is the result of an HLC team visit to the campus in November 2010. It recommends continued accreditation, with the next comprehensive visit scheduled in 2017-18.
In its evaluation, the team said NWC meets each of the five criteria for continued accreditation (mission and integrity; preparing for the future; student learning and effective teaching; acquisition, discovery and applications of knowledge; engagement and service).
A focus visit, however, will be scheduled in spring 2013 on institutional governance and administrative structures, as well as a review of annual budgeting processes.
In addition, a monitoring report is required by August 15, 2012, on the college’s institutional assessment program.
“Northwest College has many strengths,” NWC President Paul Prestwich said, “and I’m pleased that the draft report indicates that we’ve met all the criteria for continued accreditation and that we’ve made significant progress in meeting the HLC’s expectations. We also have some key aspects that we know need work. But we’re making progress, and I’m confident we can demonstrate through the focus visit and monitoring report that we’re moving in the right direction.”
In summarizing its rationale for requiring the focus visit and report, the team found that shared governance issues are currently confounding or confusing the college’s forward momentum.
According to the report, “The progress the institution was making appears to have been disrupted by changes in leadership, turnover in personnel, and the unresolved dispute over shared governance. The current president has a clear understanding of these challenges and has initiated clear strategies for addressing them; however, a monitoring report and a focus visit are needed to ensure that the institution does move forward in consistently positive progress in addressing its challenges.”
NWC is challenged to demonstrate in its 2012 monitoring report “a clear mechanism on how assessment results and analyses are feeding into planning and into budget development as well as into curricular change.”
The visiting team found inconsistencies in the college’s progress toward measuring and utilizing student learning outcomes, saying Northwest hasn’t fully embraced a culture of assessment.
In preparation for the 2013 focus visit, the team advises the college to “continue its efforts to resolve the continuing tensions, distrust, and discontent that may compromise the future stability of the college.”
The team specifically calls for the accomplishment of several governance/administration tasks as well as strategic planning and budget development initiatives.
While the evaluation team was focused on identifying areas for improvement, in its report it also noted several areas in which the college is excelling, citing in particular Hinckley Library, classroom technology, well-credentialed faculty, diversity awareness and multiculturalism, online resources for students, dual and concurrent enrollment programs at area high schools, articulation agreements with other colleges, workforce training, professional development opportunities, and local support through the NWC Foundation, especially evidenced in the Trapper Scholarship Program and Toward New Vistas Campaign.
After the HLC team corrects the college’s list of factual errors in the draft report, it will file a final report. Northwest officials then create the institution’s commentary on the final findings before entering into a plan of action based on the recommendations.
The HLC is one of six accrediting agencies in the U.S. that provide institutional accreditation on a regional basis. It accredits approximately 1,100 institutions of higher education in a 19-state region and is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Accreditation is an assurance to the public that an institution is properly prepared to do its job. The HLC and the other accrediting agencies have been designated as the gatekeepers for federal funds in higher education; unaccredited schools are not eligible for many kinds of federal support.