Oct 31st, 2011 @ 11:51 am | Author: Dr. Steve Shirley
Last week, Valley City State University hosted a team of five visitors on campus. These guests comprised the evaluation site visit team sent by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. The HLC is one of six regional institutional accreditors in the United States, and it has responsibility for accreditation of colleges and universities in 19 states (including North Dakota).

This evaluation visit is part of the once-per-decade review process in which VCSU is accredited. Accreditation by the HLC is an exhaustive process that includes a thorough review of campus. The process closely examines a wide range of areas including academic and student programs, finances, faculty, student learner assessment, strategic planning, and our relationships with the community and external entities. During the site visit, VCSU demonstrated to the evaluation team our competence in five broad criteria required by the HLC: standards relating to mission and integrity; planning for the future; student learning and effective teaching; acquisition, discovery, and application of knowledge; and engagement and service to our constituents.

The five-member site visit team included faculty and administrators affiliated with other regional universities including Winona State, the University of South Dakota, Minnesota State-Moorhead, Bemidji State, and Purdue. This skilled evaluation team is specially trained by the HLC and, as such, they bring their knowledge and experiences in higher education to the review process. The visit also represents an opportunity for continuous improvement in which VCSU can glean new recommendations and best practices to improve and strengthen our teaching and learning environment. In short, accreditation helps assure educational quality by encouraging data-gathering, analysis, assessment, reflection, and planning across the campus.

Accreditation also helps the federal government ensure compliance with federal programs, since the Department of Education has directed the regional accreditation bodies (i.e. the HLC) to review every university's compliance with various regulations designed to protect students' consumer rights and physical safety. VCSU must meet the guidelines in order to continue being eligible to provide federally funded financial aid support to students.

Additionally, the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education requires all eleven North Dakota University System colleges and universities to maintain HLC accreditation.

By all accounts, we had a very successful accreditation visit by the HLC team last week. This visit, and the accompanying self-study document we prepared in advance, represented over two years worth of preparations by countless members of VCSU's faculty and staff. Therefore, it was encouraging to hear the team's positive and affirming reactions during their exit interview at the end of last week's visit. We will now await their final, formal report and recommendations. There will undoubtedly be a number of recommendations and actions we can take to strengthen the overall academic environment at VCSU, and we look forward to taking those steps in the months and years ahead. However, we also expect recommendation by the site visit team of a full accreditation renewal for VCSU, and see this as yet another external validation of the high-quality educational setting currently in place on campus.