The following frequently asked questions are designed to help visitors understand the HLC and the role accreditation plays in Winona State University's operation. In addition to these FAQ's, the HLC has its own collection.
What is Higher Learning Commission (HLC) accreditation?
The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) is part of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA). NCA is one of six accrediting agencies in the United States that provide institutional accreditation on a regional basis. Whereas some agencies grant accreditation for individual programs, HLC evaluates and accredits institutions as a whole. Recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, HLC accredits approximately 1,100 higher education institutions in a 19-state region.
Why is HLC accreditation important?
HLC accreditation is a formal recognition that Winona State University has met standards of quality. Accreditation (1) lends respect to our school’s credits and degrees, (2) helps facilitate transfers of credits, (3) allows our students to be eligible to take state licensure exams in many professional fields and (4) affords our access to financial aid and federal funding opportunities. Without accreditation, financial aid for students would be jeopardized. Without accreditation, the college would be unable to qualify for many grants that enable it to provide quality programming and support services throughout the communities that it serves.
The HLC-NCA accreditation process itself is important in that it provides enhanced opportunities for Winona State University to assess its accomplishments, its strengths and challenges and to use this information as a basis for continuous improvement.
What criteria will HLC-NCA use to evaluate WSU?
The five designated criteria that will create the framework for Winona State University’s self-study are as follows:
Criterion One: Mission and Integrity
The organization operates with integrity to ensure the fulfillment of its mission through structures and processes that involve the board, administration, faculty, staff and students.
Criterion Two: Preparing for the Future
The organization’s allocation of resources and its processes for evaluation and planning demonstrate its capacity to fulfill its mission, improve the quality of its education and respond to future challenges and opportunities.
Criterion Three: Student Learning and Effective Teaching
The organization provides evidence of student learning and teaching effectiveness that demonstrates it is fulfilling its educational mission.
Criterion Four: Acquisition, Discovery and Application of Knowledge
The organization promotes a life of learning for its faculty, administration, staff and students by fostering and supporting inquiry, creativity, practice and social responsibility in ways consistent with its mission.
Criterion Five: Engagement and Service
As called for by its mission, the organization identifies its constituencies and serves them in ways both value.
More information can be found in the HLC’s Institutional Accreditation: An Overview, 2010 Edition.
What is the self-study process?
The self-study represents our opportunity to look inward, engage our community and collect evidence that we are meeting the HLC Criteria for Accreditation. The process is important in that it provides enhanced opportunities for Winona State University to assess its accomplishments, its strengths and challenges and to use this information as a basis for continuous improvement.
Winona State University’s self-study began in fall 2007 with the formation of a self-study team. Goals for the self-study were then established, and a steering committee was selected to plan and implement the internal examination. Subcommittees were chosen from volunteers and nominations to ensure broad departmental and organizational unit representation. Beginning in August 2008, the committee began requesting information from programs and units across campus.
The timeline for the process is as follows:
- Fall 2007: WSU’s HLC Steering Committee forms
- April 2008: Members of the HLC Steering Committee attend the HLC’s 113th Annual Meeting.
- August 2008: HLC Steering Committee created Assessment Plan templates as guidance and sub-committees formed
- August 2008 – April 2011: Numerous workshops held across campus in regard to HLC preparation and assessment plans
- October 2008: Request for information to programs and units
- October 2008-December 2011: Programs and units gather information and compile their individual reports
- April 2009: Members of the HLC Steering Committee attend HLC’s 114th Annual Meeting
- October 2009: HLC liaison, Dr. Robert Appleson visited WSU and provides feedback on our progress and Self Study Outline.
- September 2010 – April 2011: University Mission Statement is reviewed and revised
- October 2010: Self-Study Survey administered campus wide.
- January – April 2011: HLC Steering Committee compiles information into self-study report draft
- April 2011: Members of the HLC Steering Committee attend HLC’s 116th Annual Meeting
- Summer 2011: Self-study report drafted and reviewed by external editor
- August 2011: Members of the HLC Steering Committee attend the HLC new assessment criteria and Open Pathways model.
- August – October 2011: Constituency groups began work on the WSU’s Next Chapter
- September – October 2011: Draft reviewed by constituency groups across campus
- January 2012: Self Study Report sent to Accreditation Team.
- March 19-21, 2012: HLC on-campus visit
What was the HLC-NCA site visit in 2012 like?
A team of peer reviewers visited WSU (the Winona and Rochester campuses) to gather comprehensive information and visit with staff, students and external parties. Prior to the team's arrival, they carefully reviewed WSU’s self-study report and other documents forwarded to them by the Self-Study Steering Committee. At the conclusion of their three-day visit, the HLC-NCA team departed, and the college received an official written report stating the team’s recommendations approximately six weeks after the visit.
In addition, Winona State University demonstrated that it meets the designated federal compliance issues and any other areas deemed pertinent to the self-study.
Why did we undergo a comprehensive self-study process for HLC/NCA, when some departments and colleges are already accredited by other bodies?
Although several departments and colleges are accredited by agencies which deal with specific types of programs or disciplines, HLC/NCA is the only agency which grants accreditation to our entire institution. The comprehensive self-study and review process required by HLC/NCA requires evaluation of the entire organization, including not only its educational activities but also its governance and administration, financial stability, admissions and student personnel services, resources, student academic achievement, organizational effectiveness and relationships with outside constituencies. No other accrediting body conducts such a comprehensive review, and no other accrediting body applies the same criteria as those used by HLC/NCA.
How did faculty, staff, and students get involved in the HLC-NCA self-study process?
Involvement in the HLC-NCA self-study process is an excellent way for faculty, staff, and students to learn more about the colleges and university. Opportunities included, but were not limited to, the following:
- Becoming familiar with WSU’s mission statement and reflecting on faculty, staff, and students contributions to fulfilling that mission
- Continuing to contribute to the ongoing assessment of WSU's programs.
- Helping to gather existing information and resources at the departmental/program level.
- Acting as a “reader” or “reactor” to drafts of the self-study report.
- Attending and participating in public input or dialogue sessions on specific topics.
- Responding to surveys conducted.
- Communicating what HLC-NCA is all about.
- Being prepared to talk about individual views and experiences with members of the HLC site visit team should the opportunity to interact with one or more of the team members arise during the site visit