Northern Illinois University has successfully completed a major milestone in the institution’s ten-year Open Pathway with the Higher Learning Commission—a four-year Assurance Review.
“We are fortunate at NIU to have colleagues who care deeply about our institution and have contributed so generously of their time and talents to the HLC Assurance Review process,” said Vice Provost for Institutional Effectiveness Carolinda Douglass, who led the HLC initiative. “Not only did we submit the report one week in advance of the deadline, but we also received ‘top marks’ from the reviewers with all criteria and core components met.”
More than 50 NIU employees had a hand in creating the Assurance Review report—a 35,000-word argument containing more than 1,000 pieces of evidence. A team of HLC peer reviewers and the Institutional Actions Council found NIU continues to meet all requirements for accreditation, meaning the university will not face its next formal review until 2024 at the time of the commission’s next regularly scheduled site visit.
“Four years ago, a site visit team expressed significant concerns about our budgeting, planning and resource allocation processes,” Acting President Lisa Freeman told the NIU community in a presidential-search forum on campus Aug. 30. “They went as far as to recommend additional monitoring. We took an honest look at the feedback and ourselves; we created the right teams to address and make change.”
“We successfully addressed all concerns with no additional recommendations for monitoring, and we accomplished this despite unprecedented financial and leadership challenges,” Freeman added. “We know how to do hard things. We do them well when we do them together.”
Subcommittees of HLC Criteria Groups worked together this year to compile NIU’s assurance narrative for the period covering January 2014 to December 2017, based on adherence to 21 core components linked to the following five accreditation criteria:
- Integrity: Ethical and Responsible Conduct
- Teaching and Learning—Quality, Resources and Support
- Teaching and Learning—Evaluation and Improvement
- Resources, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness
On top of these criteria, NIU presented additional institutional themes in the review, including Program Prioritization, NIU Plus, transparency, diversity, and engagement.
“Of these, none involved more time, effort and inclusive participation than Program Prioritization,” Freeman remarked at the forum. “We successfully implemented that process to align mission and budget, and to improve efficiency and effectiveness across the university. … The positive outcomes of Program Prioritization have been noted by members of the Illinois General Assembly, as well as by the external team responsible for the assurance review that was just completed for the Higher Learning Commission.”
Leading up to NIU’s next Assurance Review in 2024, the institution enters a Quality Initiative phase for years five through nine of the ten-year Open Pathway. During this time, the university will be required to file, implement and report the results of a Quality Initiative with the HLC. Designed to meet NIU’s present concerns and aspirations, the QI report is designed to allow institutions to take risks and learn from outcomes.
“Difficult times remain in front of higher education, in front of our State of Illinois, and in front of our NIU, but I am confident that we will be able to capitalize on our opportunities and overcome our challenges,” Freeman told employees and students gathered at Altgeld Hall for the Aug. 30 forum. “We have already done a lot of hard work to respond to changes in our operating environment.”
“We need to move forward rather than look backward. We need to be bold and unafraid to think about where we want to be and will need to be not just next year, but in five, 10 and even 20 years.”