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Higher Learning Commission reaffirms NIU accreditation

September 25, 2014

Higher Learning Commission logoNorthern Illinois University has received reaccreditation from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) for 10 years, the maximum period possible.

The HLC is a regional agency that accredits degree granting institutions located in the 19-state north-central region of the United States. Its role is to validate the quality of an institution across multiple criteria related to academic offerings, governance and administration, mission, finances and resources.

NIU’s reaccreditation is the outcome of a meticulous internal review and evaluation process that culminated in a self-study and site visit by an HLC external peer review team.

During the self-study visit in March 2014, the HLC peer review team evaluated institutional and program quality by reviewing the NIU self-study report and conducting more than 65 face-to-face meetings with all constituents of the campus community.

Commending the NIU community for the successful visit and Doris Macdonald for her leadership in this process, NIU President Doug Baker noted that “the development of our self-study report, successful site visit by the external HLC peer review team, and the consequent recommendation of the commission for the university’s full accreditation until 2024 is among the most important events in our recent history.”

Lisa Freeman

Lisa Freeman

Provost Lisa Freeman praised the efforts of the entire campus community. Despite the the harsh winter storms that DeKalb experienced in March, NIU faculty, staff and students made sure that the HLC peer evaluators received a warm reception and had easy access to the data and information needed to support the accreditation process.

“This was an exemplar of NIU’s collective effort,” Freeman said.

“Our institution was commended by the peer evaluators who recognized our excellence in teaching and learning across our curriculum, appropriate faculty to student ratios, robust assessment practices, and continued commitment to serving the public good. The Commission also acknowledged the potential of our current infrastructure to support expansion of online programs. Whereas we were previously limited to offering five percent of our programs online, we now have full approval to offer any program online. This will be helpful to us as we strive to meet the needs of 21st century learners.”

The process of accreditation requires institutions to meet high standards related to all aspects of operating a university, said Carolinda Douglass, NIU vice provost for Academic Planning and Development. These include quality standards for curricular and co-curricular programs, credit-hour requirements and student outcomes, faculty quality and student disclosures.

“The HLC accreditation indicates our programs meet established standards, our faculty is top-notch and our students can be assured of quality in their university experience,” Douglass said. “Further, in addition to the primary benefit of providing a transparent and external validation of our high-quality academic offerings, the process provided us an opportunity to reflect and evaluate our progress toward the vision of becoming the premier public university that is student-centered and research focused. These are important steps in charting the course for student career success.”

Based on NIU’s current achievements and past history of good standing with the commission’s requirements, the university has also been granted a choice to move into one of the accreditation pathway options.

Carolinda Douglass and Doris Macdonald

Carolinda Douglass and Doris Macdonald

“Following careful deliberation, we have chosen to transition into the Open Pathway for maintaining accreditation with the commission,” Douglass said.

“Like the other pathways, the Open Pathway is focused on quality assurance and institutional improvement. It also provides us the greatest independence to pursue improvement projects that are tailored toward our current needs and aspirations,” she added. “Further, this model would help reduce our reporting burden by integrating many of the compliance requirements and existing institutional processes, as NIU segues into an electronic filing system that captures data as they naturally occur over time.”

A master chart of the Open Pathway 10-year cycle is available online.

A significant number of NIU programs, including those in business, law, health and human sciences, visual and performing arts, education, liberal arts and sciences and engineering, are accredited separately through specialized or disciplinary professional organizations, said Ritu Subramony, director of Academic Accreditation.

Each of those organizations has rigorous standards for its academic discipline, she said.

“The commission was also impressed by our good standing with these disciplinary accreditors, which is yet another reflection of the quality of our courses and programs,” Subramony said. “All of our students graduate with a degree that is endorsed by our regional accreditor – the Higher Learning Commission. The regional accreditation applies to the entire institution, indicating that, as a collective whole, we are achieving the institution’s objectives.”