Dustin Steinhoff, News Editor
A team of peer reviewers from the Higher Learning Commission visited the University of Missouri–St. Louis from Nov. 5-6 to determine whether or not the university will renew its accreditation.
UMSL is accredited by the HLC, with the previous time UMSL was up for accreditation being in 2008. The university received a renewal for 10 years, the maximum amount that can be achieved. In fact, UMSL has cooperated well with the HLC and has a strong enough institutional history to be in the HLC’s “open pathway,” allowing universities with good track records to maintain their 10-year reaccreditation cycles.
The accreditation team at UMSL was tasked with putting together a document titled the Assurance of Learning document. The document is around 140 pages long and took about two years to write and construct. The Assurance of Learning document describes how UMSL meets all five of the criterion that the HLC bases its reaccreditation decision on. These criterion are: Mission; Integrity: Ethical and Responsible Conduct; Teaching and Learning: Quality, Resources and Support; Teaching and Learning: Evaluation and Improvement; and Resources, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness.
Other documents are also required to be completed for the process such as the Federal Compliance document, which is associated with Title IV funding, and a Quality and Initiative report, which has already been sent in and accepted.
The HLC had a team of seven peer reviewers, who are representatives from other universities from around the country, visit UMSL’s campus to conduct the review. When the HLC puts together the peer review team, they make sure to put together members whose strengths in certain areas combine to be most valuable in evaluating all aspects of an institution. The peer reviewers spent a day and a half completing their work from Nov. 5 to Nov. 6.
During their visit, the members of the team are actively ensuring the content that is written about UMSL in the Assurance of Learning document is accurate of the university. They ask questions about various aspects of UMSL and look for evidence that the document’s words are truthful in order to be able to gain additional information in areas of focus about the institution and ensure HLC standards are being achieved.
“The HLC does not come in to tell us who we should be as an institution. They say, ‘Tell us what you are trying to do and then show us how you are doing,'” professor of Communication and Media and Accreditation liaison officer for the accreditation visit Alan Heisel said.
The peer reviewers also have meetings to discuss each of the five criterion with the people at UMSL who did the preparations for each criterion, as well as meetings with the campus leadership and open forums that anyone from campus can attend.
Vice president of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Curt Coonrod and Heisel have both been a part of peer review teams for other institutions in the past and have used their time doing so to apply ideas from other universities to UMSL and vice versa.
“When we go out as peer reviewers on behalf of the HLC to another institution our role is to support the HLC in the accreditation process. But there is a byproduct of that,” Coonrod said. “We get to see institutions and how they operate. You pick up on ideas.”
With the accreditation visit over, UMSL must wait two weeks for a report to be sent to both the HLC and UMSL where the UMSL administration has a chance to correct any factual errors. The revised report is sent to peer review team who finalize the report and send the final report to the HLC. The estimated date for HLC’s decision regarding UMSL’s reaccreditation status is in February. Universities in HLC’s “clear pathway” must also complete a fourth year assurance review where the institution has to provide an update to the Assurance of Learning document in four years to include recommendations that the peer reviewers had suggested and any other changes that will occur between the four years.
“It has been a long period of time, it has been a long ride, but it is easy to tell a good story when you have good content. The Assurance of Learning document is all about describing what we do as an institution. We have great people doing great work and that made it very easy to write a good Assurance of learning document,” Heisel said.