History of Accreditation
There are three types of accreditors in higher education: regional accreditors, specialized or disciplinary accreditors, and national accreditors. Regional accreditors accredit at the institutional level and rely on standards that are vague and general. There are seven regional accreditors in the United States including the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits Peru State College. Specialized or disciplinary accreditors’ requirements are more focused and specific and typically will accredit a specific academic program (e.g. CAEP, ABET, CSWE, etc.). We are currently accredited by CAEP for our education programs. Membership in these specialized accreditation agencies is typically not mandatory and the decision to participate is up to each program/institution. Many pursue this type of accreditation as it can indicate that a program is of high quality by meeting the high standards of the specialized accreditor. Lastly, national accreditors are similar to regional accreditors but have a focus on career and trade schools or institutions that were not eligible for regional accreditation (Suskie, 2015).
The role of regional accreditors has changed over the years especially with the increased focus on accountability. They were originally seen as private clubs as the membership was exclusive and did not require institutions to join. They would conduct evaluations of institutions, but the process was much more relaxed and private. Regional accreditation was first established in 1921 by MSCHE and they defined quality based upon certain inputs such as new student profiles, library collection, facilities, financial capital, and faculty backgrounds (Suskie, 2015).
When the Higher Education Act (HEA) was passed and Title IV was established in 1965, things began to change. If institutions wanted the option for their students to use Title IV financial aid programs, they were required to be accredited. With every reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, new regulations are enacted. Around the late 1980s, accreditors were being required by the HEA to have their institutions demonstrate the achievement of their missions. It was in 1998 that HEA bolstered their language requiring accreditors to necessitate that institutions demonstrate student achievement, which has not changed much in subsequent years. It was after this reauthorization that accreditors began rewriting their standards requiring institutions to assess student learning (Suskie, 2015).
The report from the Spellings Commission, published in 2006, criticized higher education including accreditation. The commission wanted heavier emphasis on accountability of colleges and universities in order to improve the “rigor and thoroughness of its reviews” and enacted the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) in 2008 to place stronger federal regulations on accreditors (Suskie, 2015).
HLC Accreditation for Peru State College
Peru State College is on HLC’s Open Pathway, which is a 10-year accreditation cycle. This pathway requires institutions to provide evidence of quality and continuous improvement. The Open Pathway is different from the other options as it involves institutions selecting a specific initiative as their Quality Initiative. Over the ten years, we are required to submit annual Institutional Updates, which provides data on enrollment, finances, and student outcomes. In the fourth year, Peru State is required to complete an Assurance Review. This involves providing narrative and evidence that an institution is meeting the Criteria and Core Components. Once submitted, a peer review team evaluates the materials and makes recommendations of whether the institution should continue through the 10-year cycle or be set up for additional monitoring. Years 5-7 involves submitting the Quality Initiative proposal. As long as it is approved by HLC, years 7-9 involve the implementation of the Quality Initiative. Year 10 is when the Comprehensive Evaluation takes place. This is similar to the four-year review, in that extensive narrative and evidence is provided but involves the peer review team visiting campus to speak to institutional stakeholders and leads to an action regarding the reaffirmation of the institution’s accreditation. Each criterion and core components are evaluated and determined as being Met, Met with Concerns, or Not Met. If each criterion and core components are met, no monitoring is required. If at least one core component is rated as met with concerns, the institution will be placed on monitoring which could including an interim report and/or focused visit or be placed on notice (sanction) and will be moved to the Standard Pathway. If at least one core component is rated as not met then the institution will be put on probation (sanction) or withdrawn, which means that it will be removed from a pathway. You can read more about the HLC Open Pathway at https://www.hlcommission.org/Accreditation/open-overview.html
See below the timeline for the 10-year Open Pathway Cycle:
Below are links to HLC Criteria, Assumed Practices, and Policies