Self-Study Plan for Valley City State University, 2009-2011

Site visit October 24-26, 2011

Accreditation at VCSU, and the Purposes of Accreditation

The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association (HLC) accredits colleges and universities in our region. Valley City State University first received accreditation from NCA in 1915 and has been continuously accredited ever since. Valley City State University previously conducted a self-study process leading to a ten-year accreditation in 2001. Since the 2001 self-study report, VCSU had a focus visit change request. VCSU has submitted four change requests:

* Graduate program with focus visit spring 2006, resulting in a required report after one year. This was submitted in the spring of 2007;
* Change request in 2007 to add a third concentration, LIT (Library Information Technologies);
* Change request to offer out-of-state sites (Wyoming sites) submitted in June, 2009; and
* Change request to remove stipulations on non-programs, graduate credits and having to request new concentrations or degrees.

The Purposes of Accreditation

Maintaining accreditation status through the Program to Evaluate and Advance Quality (PEAQ) allows a university to examine its maintenance of standards that qualify its graduates for admission to higher level institutions or for professions in which they have been trained. HLC accreditation assures its constituents that Valley City State University is a recognized, credible institution. Accreditation is vital because:

* It ensures that university credits are transferable to other institutions;
* It supports grant applications;
* It allows the institution to review and maintains the institution's credibility with both the state and prospective employers of graduates; and
* Offers external entities opportunity to provide feedback on university performance.

The Commission's Federal Compliance Program (8.2 in HLC Handbook)

Accreditation demonstrates that VCSU complies with the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) policies in order to maintain federal recognition for federal financial aid programs.

Both the self-study (either in the main body or in the addendum) and the Team Report need a special section entitled "Federal Compliance." In it, the organization and team are to address the following Commission policies:

* Credits, Program Length, and Tuition (policy I.C. 7)
* Institutional Compliance with the Higher Education Reauthorization Act (policy I.A.5)
* Federal Compliance Visits of Off-Campus Locations (policy I.C.2)
* Institution's Advertising and Recruitment Materials (policy IV.B.2)
* Professional Accreditation (policy III.A.1.)
* Requirements of Institutions Holding Dual Institutional Accreditation (policy III.A.3)
* Institutional Records of Student Compliance (policy IV.B.4)

President's Charge for the Self-study Steering Committee

As President of Valley City State University, I charge the Self-Study Steering Committee to serve as the University's review committee for the self-study process of the Higher Learning Commission's accreditation review. The objectives for the self-study are:

* To provide evidence that Valley City State University fulfills the Commission's General Institutional requirements and the Criteria for Accreditation;
* To encourage active participation, continuous improvement, strategic momentum, and institutional integrity; and
* To continue progress toward instructional improvement through assessment of student learning.

The purposes of the Self-Study Steering Committee are:

* To lead and coordinate a process through which everyone in the University participates in a thorough review of the University, including the identification of strengths and areas for improvement;
* To ensure that the views of students and other stakeholders of the University are included in the review, and that all interested constituents may participate in the process;
* To produce a final report and supporting documentation that meet the needs and requirements of the Higher Learning Commission accreditation process; and
* To advise and support the Self-Study Coordinator.

Steven W. Shirley

Institutional Goals for the Self-study Process

The goals of the self-study are to: (See 5.2 - Achieves Stated Goals)
* Provide evidence that Valley City State University fulfills the Higher Learning Commission's goals and objectives through the Program to Evaluate and Advance Quality (PEAQ) and the Criteria for Accreditation;

* Encourage active participation in the self-study process by as many constituent groups as possible;

* Identify the strengths and weaknesses of program and academic assessment;

* Assess teaching and learning in a technologically enhanced environment;

* Examine and address institutional flexibility in the demographically changing region; and

* Assess university programs and processes that contribute to institutional understanding and experience with diversity.

Existing Evaluation and Planning Processes

Campus-Wide Assessment of Teaching and Learning at VCSU

  • Survey data on Faculty Technology use in Teaching has been gathered partially under the auspices of our 1995-2000 Title III grant.
  • Student-based surveys created by a faculty member provide data on classroom practice, keyed to The Student Inventory created by the Flashlight Project.
  • The Ability Based Academic Assessment is based on eight Abilities and their accompanying skills. These were established in 1994 as part of our FIPSE grant, as a logical, assessable statement of the Foundation Study objectives. Skill areas under each ability were approved in 1998. The skills in several abilities have been revised in 2006 to better reflect program content.

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Response to Previous Higher Learning Commission Concerns

The concerns expressed by the HLC visiting team in 2001 centered on five areas:

* The institution lacks a comprehensive, focused enrollment management plan that utilizes a range of strategies based on research data. Current plans are not necessarily coordinated with institutional goals and available student financial aid. Staff and resources are limited;

* The institution's financial base is very limited. The institution can enhance the strengths of the current annual fund to build a development effort that substantially contributes to endowment and other needs. These efforts can assist the institution in moving donors to the next level of giving;

* The current information base is based on old software. A new Enterprise Resource Planning system through the North Dakota State University system should be implemented as soon as possible;

* The current shared administration with Maryville (sic) State University has limited the time that may be necessary for the institution to deal with a fluid, competitive environment; and

* Assessment is at the intermediate level of implementation. Analysis of portfolios is scheduled for the first time this next summer. Data from assessment strategies could be used to provide positive enrollment strategies. VCSU is using data to improve its academic program in the departmental majors. The institution has the capability to use data in general education to enhance effective student learning and show promise of doing so in the next year.

Generally, these concerns reflect areas in which we have made major changes. In addition, the study reflects our responsibility to demonstrate effectiveness of our Abilities as a credible assessment tool and the development of an enrollment and endowment plan.

Roles and Responsibilities of Individuals and Committees

President and Vice President for Academic Affairs

The President and Vice President for Academic Affairs provide vital accreditation leadership, which is essential to VCSU's educational programs and its students.

Their responsibilities include
* Identifying self-study as an institutional priority;
* Allocating necessary resources; and
* Providing vital input to the Self-Study Steering Committee.

Self-Study Coordinator

The Self-Study Coordinator oversees the University's Higher Learning Commission's accreditation process and the synthesis of study-committee reports into the self-study report.

The self-study related responsibilities include
* Providing liaison between the President, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Steering Committee, Criterion Chairs and subcommittees, and HLC;
* Defining roles/responsibilities of all involved in self-study;
* Developing the self-study plan and timeline, and submitting this plan to HLC;
* Acquainting all personnel with the accreditation criteria and concerns;
* Providing the University community with updates on the progress of the self-study;
* Organizing incoming data for consistency and coherence; and
* Compiling and distributing the first draft of the self-study report.

The Higher Learning Commission visitation-related responsibilities include
* Preparing for the visitation team's needs and comfort;
* Creating an efficient and effective visitation agenda;
* Overseeing the organization of the HLC team's resource room and related website materials; and
* Overseeing press releases, etc., regarding the HLC visitation.

Steering Committee:

The Steering Committee assures that the self-study plan and its execution are sound and complete.

Figure 3: Members of the Steering Committee
Joe Tykwinski
Diana Skroch
Shannon Vanhorn
Marcia Foss
Julee Russell

Their general responsibilities include
* Furnishing chairpersons for the Criterion Committees;
* Advise and support the Self-Study Coordinator;
* Promoting campus-wide involvement in the self-study process; and
* Assuring the effective progress of the Self-Study.

Criterion Chairs and Sub Committees

Five committees will be led by Criterion Chairs. These committees investigate, document, evaluate, and report on their assigned research areas. Each Criterion Chair will select one student, preferably a sophomore or junior, to participate in the committee.

Each committee will represent as many of VCSU's constituencies as possible, including faculty, administration, staff, students, and community. Each of five Self-Study committees will be assigned a criterion and Core Components. Subcommittees will be formed under each of the Criterion Chairs according to the number of Core Components.

The Criterion Committees must
* Provide a comprehensive overview of VCSU; and
* Document and evaluate the evidence to determine VCSU's strengths and areas of concern as it relates to sub points of each identified criterion.

Assessment Coordinator

The general responsibilities will include
* Creating an assessment system;
* Coordinate data gathering; and
* Update the assessment handbook.

Committee Activities and Materials for Self-Study

The five Criterion Committees will investigate, document, evaluate, and report on their assigned research areas. Each committee will be responsible for these four tasks:

1. Examine and document the Core Components and themes related to the committee's assigned criterion;

2. Gather documentation that supports the Core Component of their assigned Criterion;

3. Synthesize evidence to study how VCSU meets the criterion, related themes, and goals and determine which documentation make the strongest case; and

4. Develop conclusions about VCSU that are supported by evidence that satisfies the criterion.

The Committee Reporting Materials listed below have been designed to help each committee investigate, document, evaluate, and report their findings:

Figure 4: Committee Reporting Materials
(Samples located in Appendix, page 20)

1. Notable Accomplishment forms
2. Red flag Issues, noting problem areas we need to look at immediately
3. Committee report on Criterion conclusions drawn and discussion of most significant patterns of evidence (due April 2010)
4. Committee Minutes form (complete and submit file copy to Coordinator for each Study Committee meeting).

The Five Criteria

The HLC has organized the issues examined for accreditation into five broad areas, or Criteria for Accreditation, critical to overall institution effectiveness. Meeting all five is required for accreditation:

Criterion One: Mission and Integrity
The organization operates with integrity to ensure the fulfillment of its mission through structures and processes that involve the board, administration, faculty, staff, and students.

Criterion Two: Preparing for the Future
The organization's allocation of resources and its processes for evaluation and planning demonstrate its capacity to fulfill its mission, improve the quality of its education, and respond to future challenges and opportunities.

Criterion Three: Students Learning and Effective Teaching
The organization provides evidence of student learning and teaching effectiveness that demonstrates it is fulfilling its educational mission.

Criterion Four: Acquisition, Discovery, and application of Knowledge
The organization promotes a life of learning for its faculty, administration, staff, and students by fostering and supporting inquiry, creativity, practice, and social responsibility in ways consistent with its mission.

Criterion Five: Engagement and Service
As called for by its mission, the organization identifies its constituencies and serves them in ways both value.

The Core Components and Examples of Evidence

HLC has made a significant change since the last report. Their list of patterns of evidence has evolved into Core Component that serve as major organizational tools for the lengthy list of Examples of Evidence for each criterion. These Core Components help identify issues and concerns common throughout American higher education. In addition, an institution may consider issues that arise from its individual history, purposes, and challenges.

The Self-Study report must present evidence of the Core Components that support each criterion. The Self Report must address specific indicators that make the strongest case, and also address areas of weakness, both to be honest and to assure credibility.

The Core Components are a starting point for the self-study; committees are encouraged to identify and pursue other evidence that supports each criterion.

The Four Themes (3.3)

New to the HLC are the four themes: The Future-Oriented Organization, The Learning-Focused Organization, The Connected Organization, and The Distinctive Organization. Each of these themes is accompanied with five sub-points.

The Self-Study report must address these four themes and demonstrate where the criteria fall under these themes. By imbedding these themes into the report, a holistic and integrated Self-Study report emerges showing the interrelatedness of the criteria rather than clear distinction between the criteria.

The Core Components and Four Themes are discussed in detail in the Handbook of Accreditation (pages 3.1-1 through 3.3-5); committees are asked to report their findings for the Core Components and themes related to their study areas on the Core report sheet.

Principles of the Self-Study Process (5:2-1)

The Higher Leaning Commission provides guidelines to assist those involved in self-study.

HLC does not prescribe the details of a specific institution's self-study process. It does, however, expect that each campus guide its self-study by the following principles:

* Fits the distinctive nature of the organization.

* Achieves stated goals that guide the design and the conduct of the process.

* Ensures effective evaluation of the whole organization.

* Promises to have an impact on the organization beyond the Commission Visit.

* Engages multiple constituencies of the organization.

* Builds naturally on existing and ongoing self-evaluation processes.

* Has strong presidential and board support.

* Draws on the expertise and credibility of recognized leaders throughout the organization.

* Maintains regular and effective communication links with organizational constituencies.

* Produces evidence to show that the Commission's Criteria for Accreditation are met.

* Produces a self-study report that meets the Commission's needs.

* Testifies to the organization's commitment to peer review.

The Hallmarks of an Effective Self-Study Process are discussed in detail in the Handbook of Accreditation (pages 5.2-1 through 5.2-2)

Appendix A: Self-Study Committee Reporting Materials