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HLC Updates

Join the conversation! On this blog page we periodically post various thoughts and reflections about the HLC accreditation process in general, and about our preparation for the HLC Focused Visit in particular. Anyone can chime in! If you’d like to contribute please contact Lee Allard at lallard@nmhu.edu.

December 2018

Lee Allard, Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Research and Accreditation Liaison Officer: Our next major step in the accreditation process is a focused visit in the 2019-2020 academic year (most likely spring 2020, although the HLC has not yet provided us with a firm date), along with the production of three monitoring reports to address remaining HLC concerns in the areas of enrollment management, finance, and institutional effectiveness.

We have recently formed an HLC Steering Committee, consisting of both faculty and administrative personnel, to oversee the preparation process for the Focused Visit. This steering committee has been meeting monthly. Additionally, we have formed three subcommittees, each with representation from both academic and administrative units. Each subcommittee will work to identify key concerns that will need to be addressed in the monitoring reports, and to collect appropriate evidence and documentation to demonstrate that NMHU has met the concerns of the HLC. If you would like to serve on one of these committees, or if you would like more information, please contact Lee Allard in the OIER office. Current committee membership, as well as meeting agenda, can be found on the NMHU website at http://www.nmhu.edu/accreditation-information/hlc-committees/.

Earlier this fall we presented an HLC Forum in the Student Union to provide the NMHU community with an update on our preparation process for the Focused Visit. The forum was well attended, and included brief presentations from a number of speakers. In spring 2019, we will be hosting three HLC forums, each one focusing on a particular area of preparation, specifically enrollment management, finance, and strategic planning.

In other HLC news, as many of you are aware the HLC formally approved the proposed MFA program at NMHU. This will be our first terminal program in several decades, and provides an opportunity to expand our recruitment efforts by attracting high caliber students from across the region and country.

Thanks to the entire NMHU community for your continued interest and involvement in the accreditation process. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions.

August 2018

Lee Allard, Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Research: Effective August 1, 2018, I will be assuming the role of HLC accreditation liaison office (ALO). Brandon Kempner has done an outstanding job in this capacity for the last two years, working with the entire HU community to ensure that we addressed the HLC concerns and were able to move off probationary status. Brandon will be returning to his responsibilities within the English department but has graciously offered his continued help and support with the accreditation process as we move forward.

Our next major step in the accreditation process is a focused visit in the 2019-2020 academic year, along with the production of three monitoring reports to address remaining HLC concerns in the areas of enrollment management, finance, and institutional effectiveness. This fall, we will be forming three committees, each with representation from multiple academic and administrative units. Each committee will work to identify key concerns that will need to be addressed in these monitoring reports, and to collect appropriate evidence and documentation to support our case. If you would like to serve on one of these committees, or if you would like more information, please contact Lee Allard in the OIER office.

Although being placed on probation by the Higher Learning Commission was a difficult experience for Highlands University, it did provide an opportunity for the entire campus community to work together to address the Commission’s concerns and to strengthen and improve the university at multiple levels. I am confident that a similar level of commitment and cooperation will enable us to remain in good standing with the HLC and will allow us to grow as an institution and to more effectively serve our students and community. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions with reference to the accreditation process.

July 2018

Brandon Kempner, Professor of English: During the summer, I have been working closely with Lee Allard, Director of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Research (OIER), and Dr. Ian Williamson, Associate Vice-President of Academic Affairs, to transfer over all the HLC accreditation duties. Now that we are off probation, I will be leaving my post as Director of HLC Accreditation and returning to the English department at the end of July. Lee will be our new Accreditation Liaison Officer, who works closely with the HLC, and Ian will be handling issues more related to “substantive change,” which includes things like new degrees, new online offerings, etc.  Both of them will work to make sure we’re meeting all the HLC’s criteria for accreditation and to prepare us for our focused visit in summer 2020. I’m excited about this new structure; it will give us more input into the HLC process, and Lee and Ian together will have the time and resources necessary to prepare great documents and materials for the HLC.

Now that we’re off probation, the HLC has given us another action letter to prepare us for our 2020 focused visit. We’ll have to focus on three key areas: 1. Retention and strategic enrollment management, 2. Finances, and 3. Strategic planning and institutional improvement. Given our–shall we say “checkered”–history with the HLC, they’re likely to closely monitor Highlands over the next decade. Remember, the criteria for accreditation and the HLC action letter are very specific. We no longer have the latitude to do what we want and then align that with the HLC every decade. The HLC expect us to be in alignment with their criteria every year and will be monitoring us to make sure this is the case. So, as Lee and Ian begin to chart out the next steps for our focused visit, be sure to be responsive and, wherever possible, volunteer for the committees they will be setting up. We had a great group effort through the probation period; we can’t lose that momentum as me move forward.

May 3

Wrapping Up, Brandon Kempner

After a month has passed, what strikes me the most about the HLC annual conference is how about how significant accreditation has become over the past 10 years. It went from being something schools dealt with only once a decade, in a way that allowed universities to drive the narrative, to being a very rigid, very rigorous process controlled by the HLC. Accreditation is now driven by federal concerns regarding federal financial aid. The HLC is not shy about intruding on what used to be largely the domain of the faculty. When we add to this the pressures we’re getting from the state of New Mexico about things like general education, credit hours, and transferability, we are no longer in an era where the feds and the state would just give institutions money and say “do what you think is best.” As a faculty member, it is difficult to keep up with—or even process—this degree of change. That’s why we need to keep going to the HLC conference, why we need regular forums and reports to the Faculty Senate. Like it, dislike it, this new regime of accreditation is here to stay, and is likely to become more powerful, not less, over the next few years.


The following are impressions by HU attendees (Sam Minner, Roxanne Gonzales, Brandon Kempner, Lee Allard, Ian Williamson, Edward Martinez, Max Baca and Regent Frank Marchi) at the Higher Learning Commission’s Annual Conference in Chicago.  

Highlands executives at HLC Conference

Highlands President Sam Minner, left, with VPFA Max Baca, Provost Roxanne Gonzales, Regent Frank Marchi, VPSEM Edward Martinez, HLC Coordinator Brandon Kempner, and Associate VPAA Ian Williamson at the HLC Annual Conference.

April 11

Lee Allard

If the real estate mantra is “location, location, location,” the HLC mantra seems to be “document, document, document.” This theme surfaced in almost every session I attended, and underscores the importance of making sure that we are not only doing the right thing, but documenting what we are doing. Any activities that may be relevant to our ongoing and future accreditation efforts should be carefully and systematically documented. This will allow us to demonstrate, clearly and thoroughly, at any time, that we are in full compliance with HLC expectations.

The last two sessions I attended on Tuesday morning were interactive workshops dealing with various aspects of assessment (everyone’s favorite topic!). Needless to say, many other sessions throughout the conference also addressed this key area of institutional effectiveness and accreditation compliance. In one of the sessions, it was noted that approximately 90% of all HLC accredited institutions get “dinged” on the assessment requirements during the review process. Obviously, these “dings” range in severity (presumably from scratched paint to a train wreck), but this statistic does underscore the importance that HLC attaches to the whole assessment process. It likewise underscores how important it is for Highlands to maintain momentum with our own assessment efforts.

Drilling down a bit into the assessment discussions that were taking place at the conference, a key theme was the importance of “closing the loop”. Having a good assessment plan and collecting assessment data are both critically important, but the key question is: what do we do with these plans and these data? How do we use them to improve our student learning outcomes? What have we learned from our most recent assessment cycle that will help us to improve the assessment process moving forward? It’s okay if things don’t work – as long as we learn from the experience and move forward with a commitment to strengthen the outcomes and the process.

More broadly, in one of the sessions an HLC presenter listed the five Core Components that are most likely to be cited as deficient in the accreditation review process. These five components are, in order from most frequently cited:

  • 4B: The institution demonstrates a commitment to educational achievement and improvement through ongoing assessment of student learning.
  • 5A: The institution’s resource base supports its current educational programs and its plans for maintaining and strengthening their quality in the future.
  • 4A: The institution demonstrates responsibility for the quality of its educational programs.
  • 5C: The institution engages in systematic and integrated planning.
  • 4C: The institution demonstrates a commitment to educational improvement through ongoing attention to retention, persistence, and completion rates in its degree and certificate programs.

Some of the components listed here will look all too familiar to us at Highlands, but the list serves both as a reminder that we are not alone in our accreditation challenges and, more importantly, as a reminder that we need to remain vigilant in these areas to ensure that we maintain our accreditation in the future. This session also provided a helpful summary of some of the most common reasons why institutions came up short in meeting these Core Components.

Another helpful session focused on “Writing an Interim Report,” which of course is a timely topic for us as we will need to produce three interim reports in the next couple of years. This session provided a fairly detailed roadmap for how to prepare these reports, as well as an explanation of what happens after the reports are submitted. Basically, the report may be deemed sufficient, or additional monitoring may be recommended. Obviously, it is our hope that our own monitoring reports will be deemed sufficient, but in order for this outcome to take place we, as an institution, need to ensure that we have addressed the concerns of the HLC in a thorough and comprehensive manner. Simply writing a nice report won’t be enough: the report must point to real, substantive activities that are taking place on campus to maintain a continued level of service and operational excellence.

Finally, as a concluding remark, an obvious takeaway from this very large and very dynamic conference is the fact that the accreditation process isn’t going away any time soon, and that the HLC isn’t going to suddenly stop paying attention to us once we’ve turned in these interim reports. Maintaining our accreditation status will require ongoing efforts and vigilance across the university community. We have demonstrated that we can work together to overcome adversity; moving forward we need to demonstrate that we can work together to grow and develop as an institution of higher education, for the benefit of our students, our faculty and staff, and the larger community we serve.

I appreciate for the opportunity to participate in the HLC 2018 Conference and welcome any questions or feedback.

April 10

Edward Martinez

  1. Building Institutional Capacity to Use Data Effectively–this session concentrated on developing professional development workshops for faculty, staff and administrators to come together and review retention and graduation data as well as other types of data.  The idea behind the workshops is to get all campus stakeholders to develop a practice of reviewing data and begin asking questions based on the findings and develop strategies that may improve student success.  This is done to both develop a culture of reviewing data (both qualitative and quantitative) and making data driven decisions by everyone within the university.
  2. Emerging Student Success Trends and Community Insights: What do the data say?–This session focused on data that was collected by Civitas Learning, a student success platform for higher education, from various institutions they are working with.  The main areas of student success that they and their partners have been exploring are : Student Success not just Failure; Student Engagement; GPA–both HS and first semester; Part-time Student Success; and Why students that are so close but not complete (graduated).   Essentially, they were determining how exploring these areas may be used to predict student retention and graduation.  Some interesting findings include: A “C” grade in the English Comp I course is predictive on student graduation, i.e. those students with a C grade or less in that course are less likely to graduate; GPA at the end of the first semester is a better predictor of retention and graduation than is the HS GPA; Grades In gateway courses for a particular major, for example math 140 for a forestry major.  Only a grade of “A” in this course will assure the increased likelihood of the student graduating.  Any less than an A grade may indicate that the student did not master the content in the course needed to be successful in the rest of the major courses.  Much more data was provided, very interesting, and provided ideas of some of the analyses we can do to determine how our students compared to the data provided.
  3. Using Technology to Improve Student Engagement–this session was not very useful.  Three different institutions shared their experience on how they made their school a “I-pad School”.  Where each freshman is issued an I-pad and it is used for most everything the students do.  Each faculty member has an I-pad as well and uses it in their teaching every day.  One of the presenters also talked about the incorporation of the use of Apps for teaching and communicating with students.
  4.  Executing A Dynamic Enrollment Model–This session explained how Bethel University implemented a student onboarding plan that allowed post-traditional learners (adult learners or non-traditional learners) to be enrolled every five weeks in both face to face and online courses.  The outcome produced a 17% increase in enrollments at the undergrad level and 14% increase at the grad level.
  5. Student Success: Success, Failures and Future Plans–This session was a presentation by individuals from Chadron State College, Black Hills State, and Pittsburg State University in Kansas.  These three schools have many things in common with NMHU, rural, decreasing population in the traditional service areas, open enrollment, although they did have ACT and GPA minimums we do not.  The presenters talked about a few retention initiatives that they have implemented and have worked for them.  It was good to see that what they implemented, we at NMHU are already doing.  Namely–first year experience and i-seminar, student success contract for underprepared students, and co-requisite courses in the developmental English.

April 9

Brandon Kempner

Another long day at the conference. A lot of information:

  • I thought the stats the HLC gave were interesting: they accredit 990 institutions. 450 private, 540 public. Only 35 of those institutions have more than 20,000 students, so there are a lot of smaller schools.
  • CFI (the financial indicator scores) are declining across the board, particularly the expenses/revenues part of the equation. The HLC presenters said they were concerned about the financial picture, and that they might start asking for more details from schools.
  • The buzzwords this year seem to be “student success” and “student engagement.” Some discussion of campus activism and how universities should be supporting student causes. The HLC president talked about a greater level of civic engagement among the member schools. Some interesting discussion about how non-classroom issues may be the major impediment to retention and completion, ranging from mental health, to hunger and homelessness issues for students. If the previous 10 years at the HLC have been about academic assessment, it looks like they now want to expand their scope to start assessing how student services work to support students. This goes with the new co-curricular assessment; expect that to get expanded in future years and maybe even extended to more auxiliary functions.

Sam Minner

I attended a keynote presentation this morning by Helen Fisher, a noted anthropologist. She might be the only anthropologist out there who figured out a way to make a great deal of money in her field. She did it by devising a test that predicts who falls in love with what kind of person. She sold it to MATCH.com, and that online dating site uses it extensively to match likely partners…hmmmm. At any rate, she also uses this measure to characterize what kind of innovator someone will or might be. Her four “types” are people dominated by the dopamine system (high risk takers, let’s give it a try), the serotonin system (careful and deliberate innovators…let’s slow down and be careful with all this), the testosterone system (I know I’m right and things will be OK through sheer force of my will), and the estrogen system (let’s talk it through and get everyone’s ideas on the table before we do anything). I don’t know how valid any of this really is–she is a well known academic–but it was fun to think about people we work with at HU and which system dominates their behavior. Like so much of our work, issues, problems and challenges between and among people are often a function of different perspectives on how to behave. I also attended a session on “change of control”…read, how the HLC handles things when there is some type of merger. Believe me, that does not happen quickly and the HLC believes they have a lot of say in what happens. Legislators may think they “control” what happens at public institutions…and they do in many respects…but if the new merged entity wants to be accredited, the HLC comes into play and in a big way.

April 8

Sam Minner

The HLC Welcome Address was given by Barbara Gellman-Darnley, the president of the organization. She focused on an area the HLC has always cared about, but apparently will now become a greater focus: civic engagement. We do some things in that area at HU, but I know we could do more. I am pleased that next year we’ll launch the “HU@TheRoundhouse” initiative. Funding for this program was approved at the last board meeting. This program is intended to assist our students with leadership development by providing them with enhanced knowledge of and experience with state government. We’ll ask for volunteers from the student body, provide them with some seminars about leadership generally and state government specifically, and gather down in Santa Fe during the legislative session. We’ll have a nice meal followed by a talk by an elected official; we hope the new governor. The next morning the students and some staff, faculty, and or alum involvement will visit with elected officials, observe floor proceedings, and hear from various staffers about the process used in New Mexico to make policy. Ideally, the day will end with a group photo, again ideally, with the new governor. Then, back to LV. I know not all of our students will be able to participate in this, but I do think it is a nice addition to our efforts to work with our students in the civic engagement domain.

***

One of the keynote presentations on Sunday was Jose Bowen, president of Goucher College and the author of Teaching Naked books. He was a really entertaining speaker and is known as a real higher education innovator. His basic message is that we are not using design thinking to improve things. For example, he said that students make all kinds of bad choices in selecting their first-term classes. So…dont let them. Give them a schedule. That’s what they do at Goucher. Second point, he asserts that new students arrive at university with all of their friends–on their phone. So we have to design things to make sure they make as many friends as they can at university. His recommendations: make laundry rooms the centerpiece of residential facilities. Make any room large where you want people to gather and make students walk through those spaces on the way to their rooms (kind of like the casinos do). Make the Internet signal strongest in the lounges. That kind of thing. He thinks that some faculty should live on the dorms. He posed the question “what really matters most…a hard class and getting through it somehow or a hard roommate and somehow working that out?” He asserted the latter. He also emphasized the importance of faculty in designing things. He asserted that the most powerful predictor of what students choose to major in, the faculty member teaching the gateway classes, and asked if the “best” faculty members were teaching those classes on our home campuses. Overall, a really great speaker and a provocative message.

 

Ian Williamson

Perhaps all of us attended Barbara Gellman-Darnley’s talk to open the day.  As with Dr. Minner, I noticed the heavy emphasis that Barbara laid on civic engagement and the power of education to change people’s lives. This year, I will try make the Domenici Panelist Program is a success for NMHU. We have five students who applied to be candidates, and we find out shortly how many made the cut.

In addition, the talk stressed somewhat the importance of diversity and offered a nod to innovation. I think the HLC is finding it important to cultivate an image that is supportive rather than limiting of innovation in higher education, which may have also led to their invitation Jose Antonio Bowen, renowned musicologist and jazz musician (you can listen to his quartet album Uncrowded Night; its pretty good) and also the author of Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology out of your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning, which has won some big awards in the higher education sector. His talk was an inspirational look at how we faculty can emphasize too much our role as content producers, and not enough as academic equivalents to “fitness coaches.” They love the gym, we love the library, and it is our jobs to get students to care as much about the library as we do, essentially.  Having studied psychology recently, he brought in Schwartz’s research on choice, and Lewinian notions of channel factors, or as he calls them nudges to apply to higher education. Students need to be given 5 not 5,000 choices, to be nudged to socializing rather than checking out with quad rooms and lots of attractive communal space to hang out in. Also, students need time for reflection to connect to themselves and their personal morality. It was a good talk, but perhaps more for faculty than for administrators who need to do the heavy lifting to beat probation and show cause rap sheets.

Onto the much more technical conversation of the role of accreditation liaison officer. As an administrative neophyte, I am bound to make at least five errors in the next five sentences but here goes: I learned that the ALO is the primary person in charge of the relationship with the HLC, and has the closest interaction with the HLC Liaison. If needed, they must summon presidential authority to make sure reports get written, and failing that, have the HLC liaison make it clear to the president just how important the accreditation status is.  As we know, Brandon served successfully in that capacity and it will be difficult to fill his shoes moving forward.  Key roles for our new ALO moving forward will be to continue to maintain effective communication with HU and HLC, share information throughout institution such that the measure is delivered, no mean feat, to stay current with up-to-date HLC information (i.e., at least monthly website check-ins), and to develop the relationship with whomever will be our HLC liaison.  Some finer points about institutional change, making sure the DOE website accurately reflect HU, obtaining official HLC letters, and HLC decision-making trees were also discussed.  One notable factoid is that ALOs and Presidents/CEOs are the only institutional representatives who can request an Institutional Status and Requirements Report, which chronicles major events in the entire history of the relationship between the HLC and an institution.

The next session I attended was on interim reporting, along with Lee and Brandon.  Although interim reporting is a process somewhat less intense than the interim monitoring with a full site visit we will face, the processes Brandon assured me, would be really quite similar addressing similar types of issues.  Interim reports may address anything but commonly they address assessment, finances, strategic planning, academic programs, or governance.  Ours will have to address retention, finances, and our institutional commitment to change rather than say dropping the HLC ball yet again and forgetting about it all until it’s time to write one of those dreaded Assurance Arguments in 10 years. It just simply has to be consistently different going forward, and thankfully HU is on the right trajectory.  Neverland University was used as a made-up example of a monitoring report on assessment that was missing critical pieces of evidence, though on the surface might seem to have satisfied HLC reviewers.  A kitchen-sink approach to evidence was warned against in favor of a more judicious use of appropriate, solid evidence.  Why? Because then reviewers might miss the good stuff buried in all the junk.

The final talk I attended was on Institutional Change (IC) because I am charged with assisting programs through these HLC processes upon return to Highlands; the first program we will put forward in early July will be the HED-approved Media Arts MFA program.  There are many types of IC requests though the most common are adding locations or branches or adding programs.  Also possible is adding a consortia program between two universities.  Depending on various contextual and application quality factors, the HLC routes these requests through three review processes of increasing intensity: a desk review (2-3 months), a change panel (4-5 months), or a change visit (6+ months).  In all cases, the Institutional Actions Committee approves or denies these requests. As with all HLC processes it seems, institutions have the opportunity to respond, and should respond to all of the recommendations and reports leading up to the final decision.

The best tips pertained to what should be in a review, and why applications tended to be denied.  What should be there? HLC reviewers look for experience, commitment and preparation for change, planning and capacity for change, implementation strategies and awareness of impact of the change on the institution, awareness of quality standards and processes for maintaining quality, and a clear curriculum.  What leads to denials of change applications?  Sometimes the requests are too broad, a failure to demonstrate progress in outstanding monitoring, insufficient budgetary projections, and the lack of a meaningful assessment plan. This gives us a lot of clues about what the HLC is looking for in a good application for Institutional Change.  Tomorrow offers the advanced workshop on this issue.

Edward Martinez

I have been choosing to attend the sessions about best practices and or innovation for persistence and completion as well as those that use data analytics for retention and graduation initiatives.

  1. Personalized Pathways: Optimizing Progression and Completion–Questions such as: How do we make our students make the right choices and decisions for the next four years?  What is the student pathway? What is the profile of our student in regards to the number of hours they work, do they have family, do they commute, and what is their financial status?  All these questions were posed to make the point that all of our students are different from each other and they all have lives beyond college.  Therefore, how can we use data to figure out each and every one of their journeys and personalize their pathway.  The speaker introduced three online platform products that would allow us to personalize each student pathway based on answers to the questions mentioned above.  As we have discussed in many retention advisory committee meetings and matriculation task force meetings and the points that were being made in this session as well as what this products could potentially do are actually the answers according to this speaker.  We need to create a detailed programs of study for each student, assure that courses needed by the students are offered and at a time that is accessible by the students, and have the ability to track the student along the way to intervene as necessary.  No surprises, however, their claim is that the Degree Map, Clear Scholar, and College Scheduler products can all work together and in conjunction with Adastra and Degree Audit to implement “choice Architecture” that would allow us to optimize progression and completion.
  2. Predictive Analytics: Are You Ready–This session centered on the experiences of four CCs and their experience in trying to implement predictive analytics at their institutions.  They all had similar challenges to varying degrees.  The main points from each CC were: Assure you have a structure for Data Governance and Technology needed; Determine the Culture of the institution, i.e. is there support from faculty and administration and is the institution ready to make decisions based on the analytics; Determine if the institution has the structure and support in IT for the new technology; and Determine if the people with the right skills are in the right places to do the analytics.  It was a very interesting and informative session that allowed me to think about how we can move towards data analytics at NMHU.  I made some contacts and is something I will pursue with Dr. Allard.
  3. Paying The Price–Sara Goldrick-Rab from Temple spoke about a subject that I believe not too many of us think about; food insecurity and homelessness of our students.  How many of our students worry about where their next meal is coming from?  How many are couch hopping because they do not have a place to live?  Some of the data she quoted was very surprisingly high based on surveys she has administered nation wide.  She made the point of how this insecurity leads to retention and graduation issues and that sometimes as faculty and administrators we believe our students do not care or are lazy about their education but in reality it might be food and home insecurity.  How do we recognize whether it is an issue in our campus?  How can we be proactive to eliminate it? Frank Marchi, one of our BOR members and Max Baca were at this session as well.  This session has prompted me to ask more questions and investigate this more at NMHU and determine where our student are in regards to homelessness and food security.  A very enlightening talk and important one as well.  Sara is also the author of the book: Paying the price: College costs, financial aid and the betrayal of the American Dream.

 

Brandon Kempner

Some first day thoughts:

  • It’s absolutely packed here—well over 4,000 people attending the conference.
  • There’s an air of tension running through everything. A lot of the HLC presenters have made “deeper layers of hell” cracks about schools going on probation, and a lot of the other institutions are panicking as their visits get closer. As the HLC is changing, we caught the leading edge of their tighter standards, and many more schools are going to be going through what we’ve done in the past 2-3 years.
  • Ian, Lee, and I have been going to panels to learn the nuts and bolts of our next steps with the HLC. We went to a panel about interim monitoring to get some direction on how to write for our 2020 visit, and came away with some good tips.
  • We’ve got to keep going to this conference; we get material here we don’t’ get anywhere else. The HLC passed out the first draft of their “revised” criteria for accreditation—no huge changes, but plenty of small changes which will make us restructure our assurance argument and some of the things we do on campus. The HLC is in an era of accelerated change, and it’s up to us to keep up. We know how bad things can get if we don’t . . .
  • I’m headed off to the 4:15 session on becoming a peer reviewer; Max and I are going to apply next year (we have to be off probation); we need someone who knows the criteria from the other side of the table.

April 7, 2018

Sam Minner

Halfway through the all-day session for the presidents and chancellors. I sat toward the back and saw nothing but lots of gray hair and suits just like mine. My takeaway—-we need more varied voices in higher education leadership. This is a really a critical problem. The morning sessions focused on things “that keep presidents up at night,” and the list was long. Foremost among them were safety, funding, issues with state governments, mental health (mostly student mental health), but one of the presidents I sat with perhaps needed a few sessions himself, and completion issues. In other words, it sounded like the issues we have at HU. There was a good discussion of the alleged fact that we over index on academic problems. Apparently, nationwide, lots and lots of students leave university even though there are doing OK in regard to grades. Academic performance is apparently not the driver for leaving that it used to be. The things driving the exits are much more personal—-working a lot, family issues, mental health issues, hunger, etc. The assertion was made that we just haven’t kept pace with how our students have changed. We still act and structure things like we’re waiting for large numbers of 18-year-old students who are prepared to spend four years or more under our tutelage. That’s just not true. One presenter suggested that American higher ed was near a time of creeping irrelevance, that is, things are changing much faster that we are. We just take too long to pivot. It reminds me of the old saying that it is easier to change history than change a history class. Even with all that kind of discussion, the vibe was positive overall, and it was nice to speak openly to other presidents. The issues we face are very much the same.

***

Second half of session for presidents focused on federal updates and student success initiatives. Clearly, there is great concern about the federal government’s role in dealing with accreditors.  Many folks at the meeting seemed to feel that the federal administration would like to do away with regional accreditation altogether. I am not sure that would ever really happen, but it is possible I guess. Some good sessions on the move from access (the 90s) to completion (the first decade of this century) to what? People had different ideas about that ranging from equity to strong ties to work to survival of higher ed as we know it. There was a strong sentiment that the completion agenda did not fully consider the issues at some institutions (I’d say like HU). Overall, a long day, but a good one.

View from the HLC Annual Conference in Chicago

View from the HLC Annual Conference in Chicago