New Mexico Highlands is appealing a decision from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, an accrediting agency for the university’s School of Education.

A team from the council, or NCATE, visited the university’s School of Education during the fall of 2006, saying the department made improvements since the team’s 2004 visit, but the department had not set up a sufficient assessment system of its students and programs.

“At no time has the quality of our curriculum, the quality of the preparation of students for the teaching profession, or the quality of our faculty been questioned by NCATE,” said Dr. Kathy Jenkins, interim dean of the university’s School of Education. “This is purely a matter dealing with our assessment system, which is an administrative issue.

“The School of Education will remain accredited by the council during the appeals process,” Jenkins said. “The outcome of the appeal will in no way affect students’ ability to obtain teacher licensure or to continue to a master’s program.

NCATE accreditation is a specialty accreditation and does not affect Highlands University’s overall accreditation.

“Highlands University continues to be accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association,” Jenkins said. “The Learning Commission accreditation, not the NCATE accreditation, provides the ability for students to be licensed in the New Mexico and other states or continue to graduate school upon completion of licensure or degree requirements.”

Jenkins said a significantly improved assessment system has been put into place in response to NCATE’s concerns.

Jenkins said the department passed five of the six standards for NCATE accreditation and has made significant improvements in the assessment system to address NCATE’s concerns. Jenkins said the School of Education passed NCATE’s criteria on student knowledge and skills, field placement, student teaching, clinical practice experiences and faculty qualification and research.

“For more than a century, New Mexico Highlands has graduated an impressive number of teachers who greatly contribute to quality education in classrooms across the country,” said Dr. Jim Fries, New Mexico Highlands president. “That is not about to change. Only 50 percent of all colleges or universities in the United States have specialty education accreditation in education, and national data shows there is no difference in teacher quality between students graduating from an institution with specialty accreditation versus no specialty accreditation.”