Commission to evaluate University
Lesley Stevenson | Sunday, March 30, 2014
Notre Dame will welcome six university administrators representing the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) to campus Monday for a three-day site visit and evaluation that will determine the University’s accreditation status for the next 10 years, according to Dan Myers, University vice president and associate provost for faculty affairs.
“Every 10 years, we go through this process of going through this re-renewal of our accreditation,” Myers said. “The University has been accredited continuously since the first time they did it in 1913, so we fully expect to have our accreditation completely renewed.
“That’s not a big question for us, but it also offers an opportunity to take stock of everything that we’re doing and just see where we’re at.”
Beyond providing an opportunity for the University to police its own improvement efforts, the accreditation process guarantees that Notre Dame students will qualify for federal financial aid, that the University will maintain its eligibility for research grant money and that credits will transfer between Notre Dame and other accredited universities, Myers said.
“Sometimes people ask, ‘Why do we even bother with this? This is Notre Dame; this is a great school. Why do we have to have these people come in that are also checking up on University of Phoenix or a chiropractic school somewhere? … Surely we far exceed the minimum kinds of requirements for us to say that we’re a functioning, viable university,’” Myers said. “That’s true, but you have to be accredited for various things.”
Dan Hubert, accreditation program director, said the accreditation process includes two parts: a self-study based on HLC criteria and the follow-up site visit during which an evaluation team verifies and asks questions about the report. Myers said about 120 people worked on preparing the document for the HLC, a process that took Notre Dame two years to complete.
“The report itself is about 250 pages and it’s hyperlinked to other documents that the University has already created for other reasons,” Myers said. “So there’s 250 pages, and then there’s links to 600 more documents for everything that’s going on in there.
“It’s really a massive study, and it’s been very gratifying in a sense to do this because we have gotten this look across the entire University and all the things that this University does. I didn’t even realize half of the things that go on out there despite ⎯ I’ve been here for 16 years, I’ve worked for lots of different departments and administrations and still, there’s so much.”
Myers said compiling the report provided the administration as well as the faculty members and students who participated with an opportunity to examine Notre Dame’s broad scope of impact and influence.
“This University has such a powerful impact on the world and on its students, and we’ve really gotten to see that through creating the self study,” Myers said. “It’s impressive. You really realize how important the work of this University is and how much of an impact it has when you have an opportunity to take that broad look across everything we do. It’s been fun in that way.”
Myers said the HLC has changed its protocol so that future evaluations will involve smaller reports within a 10-year cycle.
“It’s supposed to be much less of a binge thing than it is now,” he said.
Hubert said Notre Dame expects to hear a final decision in the fall.
“[The site visit team has] an exit meeting on Wednesday where they’ll give us the gist of what they’ve seen and whether we need to be concerned for anything,” he said.
Myers said the last site visit team in 2004 identified points for University improvement that include its assessments of student learning, diversity and communication among undergraduates. They also recommended a stronger program for graduate student health insurance and stipends, he said.
“There’s been some progress on that, but it’s been very difficult to get caught up with that just because health insurance costs have been skyrocketing during this period,” he said. “We’ve made progress, but we’re not really where we want to be and it’s something that’s a continuing kind of initiative or priority for us in terms of improving the lives of students here.”
Myers said the University could be fully accredited, placed on probation or not accredited. Although the University expects to earn accreditation again, Myers said he anticipates the evaluation committee will suggest continuing the improvements the University has already made.
“This provides a moment for us to check in on those and reaffirm that those are things that are important to us that we’re going to keep working on for the next 10-year period,” Myers said.
Hubert said eight to 10 students helped compile information for the report, but students can still be involved in the accreditation process by attending an open meeting Tuesday from 5 to 6 p.m. in the Hesburgh Center Auditorium. He said the ongoing support of faculty, staff and students made the reporting process easier for Notre Dame than for other institutions.
“We’re blessed to have the resources, the staff and the ability to do a lot of this proactively,” he said. “Other institutions may be more challenged in those areas. This is their big push to get better.”