Sculpture signifying Winona State Universities sesquicentennial, 1858-2008.


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.

The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) formerly the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, 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.


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 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.


Winona State University enjoys the honor of participating in the Open Pathway approach to accreditation. Open Pathway institutions must meet a variety of factors and participate in a Quality Initiative.

Winona State is reviewed and evaluated based on five Criteria and their corresponding Core Components.


The Open Pathway process is documented on the HLC website.

Criterion 3 and Criterion 4 are at the heart of the accreditation standards. These Criteria focus first on teaching, learning, and assessment of student learning; that includes program review and effectiveness, and the congruence of academic programs with co-curricular programs.

Assessment and evaluation of Student Learning Outcomes (SLO) are specifically detailed in these Criteria. The expectation for all HLC – accredited institutions is that they identify measurable SLOs for every program, including General Education (Criterion 3), and that the assessment of these SLOs is evaluated. Institutions must demonstrate that their evaluation and interpretation of these learning data are used directly to inform program and even course-level improvements.  This is the cycle of “closing the loop” in continuous improvement.

In general, Winona State is doing well in most areas with “strengths too numerous to mention.”

The last site visit identifies two main areas that should and must be addressed as we move forward:

  1. Diversity, of out student population and our faculty/staff
  2. Program-level assessment and follow-up university-level evaluation of program reviews

“Program” refers to academic programs and non-academic units, though the previous team was most concerned with academic programs.

These two areas are front and center to our current (2015) Strategic and Academic Planning (PDF).