St. Olaf College is accredited as a degree-granting institution by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, which accredits over 1,000 colleges and universities in nineteen states. To retain that status, St. Olaf must seek reaccreditation every ten years. Reaccreditation involves a comprehensive examination of how well the college is performing its educational mission and whether the institution continues to meet established criteria for quality assurance.
In the past, the process required colleges to conduct an institution-wide self-study in preparation for a comprehensive peer review visit. The self-study process often took place over a two-year period. For St. Olaf’s current reaccreditation, the college and the Higher Learning Commission are collaborating on a new approach. St. Olaf is one of 14 institutions the Commission has invited to participate in the first cohort of its new “Pathways Demonstration Project” model for reaccreditation.
Under this new model, called “Open Pathways” for short, the reaccreditation process has two steps: a Quality Initiative and an Assurance Review. In St. Olaf’s case, the college proposed the recent Main Street Initiative as the Quality Initiative project to be evaluated. Accordingly, the final report on the Main Street Project has been submitted for assessment by the Higher Learning Commission.
Following a response by the Commission, the next step is for the college to prepare an Assurance Argument. The Assurance Argument is designed to be a succinct, evidence-based argument making the case that St. Olaf meets each of the Higher Learning Commission’s criteria for accreditation. Unlike the long, descriptive self-study that institutions previously wrote in reaccreditation processes, the Assurance Argument must address each criteria in a specified format. The Argument must be no longer than 35,000 words.
President Anderson has appointed a committee to coordinate work on the Assurance Argument. A draft of the Assurance Argument is to be completed in January 2013 and input sought from faculty and staff before a final vesion is then submitted to the Higher Learning Commission in mid-March. A peer review team selected by the Commission will then evaluate the Assurance Argument; conduct a site visit on April 15 and 16, 2013; and make a final recommendation concerning St. Olaf’s reaccreditation to the Higher Learning Commission.
Paula Carlson, Vice President for Mission (chair)
Jo Beld, Professor of Political Science and Director of Evaluation and Assessment
Kevin Crisp, Associate Professor of Biology
Susan Canon, Director of Institutional Research