As part of the process of reaccreditation, a group of collegiate faculty and administrators volunteering for the Higher Learning Commission visited Hendrix on March 4 to hear from students, faculty, and staff about their experiences at the school.
The Higher Learning Commission is one of seven regional accreditation agencies in the country and the one Hendrix has been reporting to since 1924. Every ten years, the college issues a self-study report to the HLC who reviews it and decides whether or not Hendrix deserves to be reaccredited, with the ultimate goal of quality assurance and institutional improvement.
At the same time, in order for higher education institutions in the United States to receive federal funding through Financial Student Aid or Title IX, those institutions must be accredited by one of these seven federally-approved agencies.
The report that the College sent to the Commission this March was crafted over the course of two years by the Hendrix Self Study Committee chaired by Associate Professor of Economics and Business Megan Leonard and Associate Professor of History Sasha Pfau. Others on the committee include the Chief Financial Officer, Dean of Students, Director of Institutional Research, and the Executive Vice President and Provost among others.
The process of creating the self-study involves anything from gathering copies of syllabi from Explorations classes to making sure athletic teams have written goals for their athletes.
The report itself consists of 84 pages of text and over 200 links to documents needed to provide the HLC with evidence of the College’s ability to plan, implement, and improve its capacities. All of this amounts to a detailed request for reaccreditation for the next ten years.
This comprehensive report focuses on five key areas: (1) Mission, (2) Ethical and Responsible Conduct, (3) Teaching and Learning: Quality, Resources, and Support, (4) Teaching and Learning: Evaluation and Improvement, and (5) Resources, Planning, and Institutional Effectiveness.
“Five is one that a lot of institutions are having issues with at the moment,” co-chair of the committee, Sasha Pfau said, “and obviously, ours is one.” By that, Pfau was referring to the current financial struggles Hendrix faces and the very reason the College hired the consulting firm, EY-Parthenon.
The committee ensured that Hendrix’s plans for resource allocation was very careful. The recommendations made by EY-Parthenon and the subsequent decision by the College to adopt three of those recommendations factored into the committee’s report to the HLC.
Another area that the HLC focuses on is ensuring that professors are qualified to teach. “That is not a problem for us,” Pfau said. Co-chair Megan Leonard chimed in here. “The idea is to be protecting students. You’re paying to come here, and you should be getting something that makes sense.”
At Hendrix, depending on the department, non-tenure-track faculty members are required to have earned a master’s degree in their field. For some disciplines, a terminal degree is required.
Pfau said it is incredibly unlikely for the College to lose its accreditation. If that were to happen, however, an institution is placed on a kind of probation period during which the HLC monitors the school to ensure it makes the necessary changes to earn accreditation again.
“If they have real concerns about us as an institution,” Pfau said, “they’ll say, ‘We want to check back in with you. We want you to do these things to prove to us that you are actually going to be okay.’”
If an institution “on monitoring” continually fails to improve, the HLC will remove their accreditation. Most cases like those arise due to financially unsustainable practices at institutions of higher learning.
As Hendrix vies for reaccreditation, Leonard and Pfau stressed that Hendrix students should feel good about the way ahead. “We are mission-driven. We operate with integrity, and we’re dedicated to teaching and learning and pushing forward into the future. We believe it and we hope that comes across to the students.”