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NIU enthusiasm impresses HLC team

March 14, 2014

Higher Learning Commission logoAfter 30 months of intense collaboration that included the entire Northern Illinois University community, NIU’s accreditation self-study process culminated in a successful site visit from March 3 through March 5.

During the visit, the team of 11 Higher Learning Commission (HLC) peer evaluators met with students, staff, faculty, the NIU Board of Trustees, administrators, alumni and community members in more than 65 scheduled meetings.

In these meetings, the site team sought evidence of alignment of institutional activities with the university’s mission, evidence of continuous improvement and assessment across all endeavors and the integration of these within NIU’s strategic planning activities.

“We want to thank our entire campus community for stepping up and representing NIU with pride,” says Carolinda Douglass, vice provost for academic planning and development. “The site team was very impressed with the energy and excitement of the campus community and with the level of participation across all constituents.”

NIU’s self-study began in fall of 2011 with the constitution of a steering committee chaired by Doris Macdonald, associate professor in the Department of English.

Carolinda Douglass and Doris Macdonald

Carolinda Douglass and Doris Macdonald

“Our nine faculty steering committee members did a fantastic job guiding their subcommittees in collecting and analyzing information from the past 10 years to include in our self-study report,” Macdonald adds. “We sent the self-study report to the HLC peer reviewers two months before their visit so the team could review our institutional data and evidentiary supporting materials in advance of their site visit.”

As a result of the advance work, the site team was able to use their entire time on campus listening to and questioning the campus community about information in the report and about the future of NIU.

The site team expressed confidence in NIU’s culture of assessment and avenues for institutional change. They also were impressed with the university’s recently established Course Activity Documentation (CAD) module as a system for compliance with federal credit hour reporting. The full site team report is expected to be available the week of April 21.

The HLC is undergoing changes in its accreditation processes as it implements its new Pathways Assurance System. What this means for NIU is that instead of waiting for a comprehensive 10-year self-study, institutional data will be reported each year to the HLC with more rigorous annual review by the commission. As part of this new process, NIU will participate in two assurance reviews in each ten-year cycle: one after four years in 2018 and another after 10 years in 2024.

While this process will enhance opportunities for continuous evaluation and improvement, it brings with it a workflow change that requires maintaining up-to-date institutional reporting.

Ritu Subramony

Ritu Subramony

These changes and expansion of disciplinary accreditation requirements across campus has led to the appointment of NIU’s first director of academic accreditation, Ritu Subramony. Subramony received her Ph.D. in school psychology from Central Michigan University and more recently completed a master’s degree in higher education and policy from Northwestern University.

She describes her experiences in the K-12 system and higher education environments as providing her with a strong foundation in understanding the needs and passions of different stakeholders within a very heterogeneous higher education system, building constructive professional relationships, and keeping abreast of policies in the area of higher education accreditation.

“I hope to bring creativity to a job that is not typically perceived as being creative,” Subramony says. “While federal requirements drive institutional data for external reporting, ultimately, it is most effective when systems can streamline processes to collect mandatory compliance data that is also fed back to colleges and programs for quality checks and as evidence of excellence.”

Subramony will engage in collecting, analyzing and reporting academic and institutional accreditation data; administering the CAD module; and fulfilling the newly implemented HLC requirements, among other duties.