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Reaffirmation of Accreditation

Reaffirmation of Accreditation

Accreditation is a voluntary, peer-led process by which institutions of higher education hold themselves accountable for the quality of their educational programs. Peer reviewers, experts in the field of higher education, are responsible for assuring that an institution is complying with the Criteria for Accreditation and helping an institution advance within the context of its own mission.

Ohio University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC, formerly the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education) and has been continuously accredited since 1913. The Higher Learning Commission, established in 1895, is an institutional accreditor, accrediting the institution, including all of its degree programs.

Achieving accredited status is a time and resource intensive process demonstrating a commitment to institutional effectiveness and the continuous improvement of academic quality. It involves faculty, staff, students, and all other stakeholders of the university.

Why is Accreditation Important?

Institutional accreditation is important because it puts the responsibility for assuring the quality of an institution on the institution itself. Institutional accreditation evaluates the capacity of an institution to assure its own quality. By doing so it allows each institution to approach the Criteria of Accreditation within the context of its mission.  Through a specific pathway, institutions engage in evaluation cycles to reaffirm compliance with HLC requirements. Through these evaluation cycles HLC expects institutions to produce evidence that it is meeting the Criteria for Accreditation.

The Criteria for Accreditation should be view through this lens. HLC expects that institutions have policies, processes, and expectations for quality assurance in its entirety and throughout its educational offerings. For example, governing boards should ensure quality through its governance structures, with appropriate degrees of involvement and delegation, institutional planning is important because it is critical to sustaining quality, and assessment of student learning and attention on persistence and completion are ways in which the institution improves and ensures the quality of its teaching and learning.

In short, accreditation is important because it affirms Ohio University is providing a quality education, offers valuable feedback from experts in the field on how Ohio University is meeting nationally endorsed criteria, and provides an opportunity to assess, improve, and demonstrate our institutional effectiveness.  Accreditation can also affect eligibility for:

  • faculty and staff to receive grants
  • students to receive federal and state financial aid
  • student’s credit hours and courses to transfer to other institutions
  • graduates to sit for licensing exams and pursue graduate level education

2024 Assurance Argument, Federal Compliance Report, and Quality Initiative Project

Evidence Collection Process FAQs

How is HLC Evidence Collection different from Assessment or the ASSUR process?

HLC Evidence Collection covers a broader range of topics than in the Assessment Clearinghouse. Assessment is a big part of the evidence that we use to tell our story to accreditors, and the Assessment Clearinghouse is a substantial database of academic and non-academic measures, but there are lots of other sources of evidence, like market research, stakeholder feedback, impact studies, planning documents (strategic, capital and financial), and more.

The assessment and evaluation work that each department and educational program completes annually plays a big part in demonstrating that we offer a quality education. Iterative years of these assessments can also show how we operate when a change is needed – how we identify a problem, plan a solution, gather resources for that plan, implement the change and monitor the results of the planned improvement.

Why do we have all these evidence committees?

The HLC Evidence Committees (also called Institutional Accreditation Committees) oversee the processes of identifying, collecting, and evaluating the evidence (data, information, policies, etc.) that we use to tell our story. The university is large, and we need representatives from across the university to help in the work. These committees are collecting the evidence and background information that we need in order to tell OHIO’s story to the peer reviewers and the public. Just like a research article, these evidence pieces are pulled together to demonstrate our thesis: that we are in compliance with federal regulations and accreditor expectations.

The first year of these committees (2022-23) has been quite a learning process, both for the committee members and for the departments, offices and colleges that were asked to submit evidence. That’s because we were collecting several years’ worth of evidence for different processes, data and policies. In future years, we will only need to collect a particular set of updated data plus evidence related to new strategies or processes. 

Why can’t we use websites? All of my [department’s/office’s] information is easily accessed on our webpages.

There are three reasons we don’t use websites. 1) The HLC system will not allow websites, except for very specific things (e.g., faculty handbook and course offerings).  2) Website content or even web addresses may change between the time of evidence collection and the time of HLC’s review. What seems like great clear evidence now could be gone by Spring 2025. Instead, we need to have a snapshot of how you present the information now.  3) Websites can be very long and complex, and reviewers don’t want to scroll all day. If we have a pdf of the website, we can highlight the relevant part and make the reviewer’s job easier.

What are some ways to make this easier?

The process will get easier in future years due to familiarity and because the evidence collection process will be refined. It’s always a little rough when you first begin in earnest.

Departments and offices can do a few things to make it easier to tell the story of Ohio University, how we provide a great education, and how we constantly work to improve:

  • In minutes or documents, include the rationale for a decision that you are making. It’s helpful to include who was involved in a decision, what data or information was considered and what was decided.
  • When new information comes out (survey data, enrollment or employment trends, student success metrics like retention and graduation rates, etc.), share it across your department/unit and discuss and document relevant findings.
  • Use any existing annual reports to record your decisions AND to review progress on what you decided to implement the prior year.

What about student privacy? Can we use student names?

We advise to remove student names when possible from any document submitted for evidence review. As evidence committee members and employees of Ohio University, we are obligated to follow FERPA guidelines on public vs. confidential student information. During the initial review of the evidence done internally by employees only, we can see documents with student names as it falls into the FERPA exception of school officials with a legitimate educational interest. Student names and other student identifiers will be removed from the evidence that we upload and share with HLC.

Reaffirmation of Accreditation FAQs

What is Accreditation for anyway?

Institutional accreditation is a public way of demonstrating the quality of education that OHIO provides, along with showing our adherence to federal regulations. Accreditation shows the public that the university is acting in good faith to serve the public by providing a quality education.

Only accredited institutions are eligible to receive federal funds for higher education, including student financial aid and research funding. Accreditation helps to ensure that a student’s transfer credits will be accepted by another accredited school. Some graduate schools or programs only accept students with degrees from accredited schools.

How long has Ohio University been accredited?

Ohio University was first accredited by the Higher Learning Commission in 1913. Since then, the university has participated in review and reaffirmation activities many times. Most recently, Ohio University was reaffirmed in 2015-2016.

If we’re already accredited, why are we doing it again?

Institutional accreditation happens in cycles, so that we can continue to show our higher quality. Public interest in the value of higher education has been growing over the past several years. Our potential students and their families, along with government officials and politicians, want to know that the money spent by students and taxpayers is a good investment. Employers want to know that the graduates that they hire have had a quality education. Since our original accreditation in 1913, the university, society, the job market, and taxpayer funding models have all changed significantly. Reaffirming that we still meet the criteria for accreditation shows a continued focus on educational quality.

What’s the difference between institutional accreditation and program accreditation?

Institutional accreditation reflects the overall quality of the whole institution without making judgments about any specific programs. Institutional accreditation is accreditation of all programs, sites, and methods of delivery. The accreditation of individual programs, such as those preparing students to practice a profession (athletic training, education, social work, nursing, etc.), is carried out by specialized or program accrediting bodies that apply specific standards for curriculum and course content. The Higher Learning Commission does not provide a list of programs offered by its accredited institutions. Each specialized accrediting body publishes a list of programs it accredits.

How long is the Higher Learning Commission accreditation cycle?

The accreditation cycle is ten years long, with a mid-cycle comprehensive review. Ohio University’s most recent reaffirmation occurred in 2015-2016, and a mid-cycle review occurred in 2019. The next reaffirmation occurs in 2024-2025 academic year. The reaffirmation visit will occur March 24-25, 2025.

What does it mean to be in the Open Pathway?

The Higher Learning Commission has two options that a college or university can use to demonstrate their commitment to providing a quality education – the Standard Pathway and the Open Pathway. In both cases, the institution is expected to meet quality assurance standards and pursue institutional improvement. In the Open Pathway, the improvement component is specified by the institution through the Quality Initiative.

Ohio Guarantee+ is the Quality Initiative project for Ohio University. For more information, please visit OHIO Guarantee+ | Ohio University.

What happens if an accredited institution doesn’t meet accreditation standards?

Institutions that do not sufficiently demonstrate compliance with accreditation standards may be asked for monitoring reports or placed on the public sanctions of “Notice” or “Probation.” The institution is typically given a period of time (e.g., two years) to come into compliance with the accreditation standards.