As Knox approaches the one-year anniversary of its last visit by a Higher Learning Commission (HLC) evaluation team, administrators have been busy with the implementation of the team’s consultations.
The HLC, a commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, is charged with the evaluation and accreditation of member institutions, according to its website. Its guidelines state that reaccreditation must occur for an institution no longer than ten years after its previous evaluation.
Knox was due for an evaluation in early November 2009. The evaluation team consisted of four employees from other institutions, including three administrators and one professor. A report on the implementation of the team’s consultations is due back to the HLC in 2013.
Among the terms thrown around with accreditation is “institutionalizing assessment.” Dean of the College and Vice President of Academic Affairs Larry Breitborde commented on a “renewed attention” over the last 15 years to understanding how well learning gets done at an institution.
“If you think about it from the ground up, every faculty member [reviews the outcomes of a course] anyway,” Breitborde said. “We put together a course, the course has certain goals and you try to reach those goals through a variety of means.”
But, as he explained, there has been pressure for both transparency and documentation as part of the review process.
In addition, these evaluations were made at a department level, which considered the aims of a major or minor and the education and graduation requirements.
The scope of the HLC, though, reaches beyond the instructional aspect of the institution. Among the observations made concerning Administration and Organizational Development is the fact that “Knox has an inordinately high percentage of alumni (34 of 38) that serve as trustees,” according to the Advancement section of the evaluation team’s report.
Associate Dean of the College Lori Haslem chairs the Assessment Advisory Group, a non-standing committee created by Breitborde following the evaluation team’s visit. Registrar Kevin Hastings, professor of history Penny Gold, assistant professor of economy Jonathan Powers, professor of chemistry Diana Cermak and associate professor of math Mary Armon also sit on the committee.
“[The Assessment Advisory Group] is meant to be largely a body of faculty members who will help the faculty see the need to take on some of this assessment work,” Haslem said. “We wanted to make sure there was faculty ownership of the assessment process.”
While the ultimate goal of the committee is to oversee much of what will be included in the 2013 report to the HLC, Haslem describes the interim driving forces.
“There’s a two-fold purpose to the group. One is to help steer things toward the report we have to issue,” Haslem said. The other is to move toward the aforementioned institutionalization of assessment, or “to be able to articulate with confidence and assurance that we know that we are trying to meet certain goals … [and] that the students are learning what we think they’re learning.”
In terms of criticism of the process, both Breitborde and Haslem cited the qualm among the faculty that the associated documentation is mere “busy work.”