Director of Corporate, Foundation and Sponsored Research Support Jan Wolbers spent part of her Christmas day emailing back and forth with President Teresa Amott, as they worked on completing an approximately 35,000 word report due within five days.
For the past few months, a large portion of the Knox senior staff’s attention has been focused on completing the “Assurance Argument” required by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) as part of the re-accreditation process, which the school has to go through every ten years.
Wolber’s role in the process has been in coordinating the various senior staff members, as completing the Assurance Argument required collaboration between essentially every department of the school.
The re-accreditation process is intended to ensure schools are meeting certain standards of quality. Specifically, the HLC’s criteria looks at school’s missions, ethical and responsible conduct, teaching and learning, academic evaluation and planning and budgeting.
The Assurance Argument document the school submitted is intended as review of the schools’ performance in each of these areas and an explanation of the school’s process. Wolbers and Provost Michael Schneider, who was largely involved in the academic portions of the report, described themselves as proud of the work put into the document upon its completion.
“I felt a sense of accomplishment for the institution, because when you get a chance to look back at the work people have done over the past decade, you see an enormous number of accomplishments,” Schneider said. “You see people rethinking things, trying new things looking for new ways to serve the education mission.”
The re-accreditation process also required a visit to campus by HLC peer reviewers in late January, in which they held discussion with Knox staff and students.
Wolber spoke positively of the experience meeting with the peer reviewers, saying that because they all come from institutions similar to Knox, they understood the various challenges the school faces.
Schneider and Wolber expected for the peer reviewers to submit to the HLC their response their response to Knox’s assurance argument at some point this week.
The process going forward will include Knox having the opportunity to request changes to the document based on disagreements of fact. After this, the response will be reviewed by the HLC’s Institutional Actions Council for final approval, which Schneider believed might occur in April.
The final response by the HLC will state whether the peer reviewers believed Knox successfully met each of the HLC’s criteria, as well as any concerns the peer reviewers had with the institution.
As part of the 10-year re-accreditation cycle, in four years Knox will be expected to submit an Assurance Review, in which they will state how they are addressing any of the concerns brought up by the HLC.
Schneider noted the example of 2009, when the school was told by the HLC that the school had to make progress on its academic assessment process. Part of the school’s response was instituting a system under which every departmental program goes through an external review.
He pointed to this as a place where the school had made progress since the last re-accreditation review, but also a place where the recent review allowed them to re-assess the future direction the school will take.
In terms of expectations for what will be brought up in the HLC’s response, Wolbers and Schneider noted that discussions with the HLC had included the school’s progress in the area of diversity.
The school acknowledged in its report that it has faced issues with the hiring of diverse faculty, with Wolbers saying the peer reviewers expressed understanding of the difficulty of bringing people to a small town.
Also discussed with the peer reviewers were issues of budget management, the assessment process of Knox staff members and keeping track of outcomes after students graduate.
While Schenider is not nervous about the results from the HLC, he did describe it as a relief to be finished with the process, as for the past months re-accreditation had taken up part of his thoughts and time every day.
“It’s hard for me now to assess, was it emotional labor or actual physical labor? I think it was some of both, but because one has to be emotionally invested to understand one’s own institution critically, it was a daily burden,” Schneider said.