The Higher Learning Commission will visit Monroe County Community College on Nov. 4 and 5 to complete a re-accreditation review.
The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) is based out Chicago, Illinois. According to the institution’s website, the HLC “accredits colleges and universities in a 19-state region of the United States.”
A month prior to accreditation, MCCC submits an Assurance Argument to the HLC for review. In addition, links and evidence files are sent to the team that will visit MCCC’s campus.
The team is made up of higher education professionals from two-year and four-year colleges and universities. For MCCC, the HLC will send out a team of five members to review the criteria laid out in the Assurance Argument. This prepares the team before they even come to campus.
Dr. Grace Yackee, MCCC’s Vice President of Instruction, explained the HLC’s accreditation process from start to finish.
“They’re really here to validate what we said in our argument is actually what’s happening and clarify what we said,” Yackee said.
The Assurance Argument deals with MCCC’s five Criteria for Accreditation, which are Mission, Ethics and Responsible Conduct, Teaching and Learning: Quality, Resources and Support, Teaching and Learning: Evaluation and Improvement, and Planning and Evaluation.
Yackee explained the main pillars of each criterion.
“The first is Mission,” Yackee said. “Based on our mission documents that are readily available, are you doing what you say you’re doing as an institution?”
“The second criterion is Ethics and Responsible Conduct,” Yackee said. “It’s important specifically to public institutions. We’re funded publicly, particularly in this community, where a large percentage of our revenue is supported by local taxes. So, are you not only acting ethically and responsibly, but are you being true to your public?”
“Criterion three is Teaching and Learning, [and] the focus is on the quality of teaching and learning, the resources, and support for faculty and students.”
“Criterion four is also Teaching and Learning, but the emphasis there is on evaluation and improvement. “Not only are you teaching, but are you evaluating learning, whether or not students are actually learning them what you’re expecting them to learn in your classrooms? And then, what are you doing with the data to make improvements?”
“Finally, criterion five is Planning and Evaluation.”
Yackee explained that the college’s approach to accreditation has evolved in recent years. In contrast to beginning preparations two years prior to accreditation by assembling a large task force and evaluating the criteria, work is being done constantly to ensure that criteria is being met.
“Accreditation isn’t something you just prepare for a year before it happens,” Yackee said. “The work of accreditation is going on all the time. We’re doing it every day.”
The HLC operates on a 10-year cycle. Every 10 years, they visit an institution to act on its accreditation.
“But there’s all sorts of interactions you have with them during those 10 years depending on what pathway you’re on,” Yackee explained.
The HLC last visited MCCC in 2009 to act on its accreditation.
“They look at the five criteria for accreditation and determine if you meet them, you meet them with concerns, or you don’t meet them,” Yackee said.
“In 2009, there were a couple areas we met but with concerns they wanted us to address,” Yackee said.
One of the areas of concern was MCCC’s governance model. Prior to the college’s current model of shared governance, there was a peer standing committee model. This model consisted of 10 to 12 committees that dealt with priority issues. These committees reported to the Vice President, who then reported to the President.
Yackee said that this model lacked effective communication or equal input from all committees.
“It felt like work wasn’t getting done,” Yackee said.
Concerns about the peer standing committee model warranted a follow-up visit from the HLC in 2013 to review those areas again.
“They were satisfied that we made sufficient progress,” Yackee said of the 2013 visit.
In 2015, the HLC came for a scheduled check-in visit.
“A check-in visit is typically in the fourth year of the 10-year cycle,” Yackee said. “It’s a new program, so it’s just been implemented within this last 10-year cycle. We had a focus visit right before it was implemented. So they had us do the check-in our sixth year (2015) instead of our fourth year.”
During a check-in, the HLC looks at an institution’s compliance with the five accreditation criteria. Unless there is a cause for concern that was found during the check-in visit, the status of the institution remains the same.
MCCC met all five criteria during the check-in visit in 2015.
During the upcoming Nov. 2019 visit, the HLC will act on MCCC’s accreditation as a part of the 10-year review cycle.
The HLC will be on MCCC’s campus for a span of two days, Nov. 4 and 5.
While on MCCC’s campus, the team will be using the La-Z-Boy boardroom as their on-campus base. Members of the team will also travel around campus to observe different areas.
“Someone’s going to be in Human Resources, looking at our staff and faculty qualifications,” Yackee said. “Others will be meeting with committees and looking at how the campus is moving along. They’ll meet with students—they want to get into the classrooms and have some conversations with students.”
Although the team will be collecting evidence and interacting with faculty and staff on campus, they do not determine if the school in question should remain accredited. Based on their findings, the team makes a recommendation to the HLC, who makes the final decision about the institution’s status.
Yackee explained her individual role in the accreditation process.
“I’m the college’s liaison to the HLC, so they communicate with the president and myself,” Yackee said. “I coordinate the accreditation reviews. I’m reaching out to these other areas to get the information to put into the assurance argument.”
Ken Mohney, Professor of Anthropology, compared accreditation to passing a driving test.
“Accreditation is like [getting] a driver’s license, but it’s our (MCCC’s) license to grant degrees,” Mohney said. “Without accreditation, you can grant all the degrees you want, but they don’t officially count.”
Mohney is co-chair of the Learning Assessment Committee (LAC). The LAC assesses that the concepts taught through general education are met.
Professor of Nursing Nicole Garner is Mohney’s co-chair on the LAC.
“In general education, we have the three big goals that are critical thinking, social and cultural awareness, and communication,” Garner said. “Right now, they’re very much embedded into our general education.”
“The hot topic in recent years has been assessing gen ed courses,” Mohney said. “Basically, coming up with proof beyond grades to show that people are learning what we say they’re learning.”
Mohney explained what that assessment looks like in his own classroom.
“In my cultural anthropology class, I have questions that are directly tied to those general education outcomes that we have,” Mohney said. “I look at those questions that everybody has answered and I assess them on a four-point scale, [by] how close you came to meeting the gen ed objective.”
“We’re looking at student outcomes,” Garner explained. “We have those at the course section level and the course level. Not only do I as an instructor need to make sure my students are doing it, but if there’s multiple sections and different people are teaching, we want to make sure that as a whole the students are getting it.”
As co-chair, she plays a large part in assessing the effectiveness of student outcomes.
“That’s where I come in as the co-chair of the LAC,” Garner explained. “[It] has a lot to do with that instructional assessment piece. It’s ensuring that we assess the course section, the program, the general education, that all of those things are done appropriately to ensure [students] get a good education here.”
Although he’s confident the accreditation will go smoothly, Mohney is aware of the serious nature of the proceedings.
“It is a big deal, from that perspective,” Mohney said.
Rebekah Ballmes, a student on campus, believes that MCCC should be re-accredited due to its high academic standards.
“I think it’s important in maintaining the high standards that MCCC has for their education system,” Ballmes said. “Coming from a poor small school, I feel comfortable here at MCCC because I know that they can provide me with the resources I need to succeed, whereas I didn’t have that before. It makes me feel more confident in my future job search to have a degree under my belt from an accredited college.”