As part of the Higher Learning Commission’s ten-year accreditation cycle, institutions are required to undertake a focused Quality Initiative that occurs in the second half of the cycle, sometime between the fourth-year Assurance Review and the tenth-year Comprehensive Review. The Quality Initiative is a significant improvement project addressing one or more areas of the college’s operations or performance, structured either as a self-contained project or as an important milestone in a longer-term effort. HLC encourages institutions to develop and implement initiatives that require them to “take risks, aim high and learn from only partial success or even failure.” Like the Assurance Review and the Comprehensive Review, the Quality Initiative includes a report to the Higher Learning Commission, which is then evaluated by a team of peer reviewers who provide feedback and recommendations on the college’s work.
St. Olaf’s 2020-22 Quality Initiative, Equity and Inclusion at St. Olaf College: Assessing, Enhancing, and Sustaining the Vision, is focused on implementing Goal 5 of the college’s 2019 Equity and Inclusion Plan: “Hold ourselves accountable for the success of the plan through assessment, reporting, action, and celebration.” As articulated in the college’s approved Quality Initiative Proposal to the Higher Learning Commission, the initiative will:
- Develop an inventory of existing and anticipated practices, actions, and initiatives across campus that support equity and inclusion;
- Establish broad metrics for monitoring campus climate, student success, and outcomes for all community populations;
- Communicate actions and outcomes regularly with the broader St. Olaf community;
- Connect assessment of particular actions and initiatives with strategies for continuing improvement or sustaining success; and
- Inform decisions to sustain appropriate practices and innovations, particularly those initiated with grant funding, and to develop new ones to deepen the work.
The initiative was launched with the submission of the college’s proposal to the Higher Learning Commission on June 1, 2020 (Year 7 of the college’s ten-year accreditation cycle) and will conclude with the submission of a final report by June 1, 2022 (Year 9). The leadership team overseeing the initiative includes:
Jo Beld, Vice President for Mission and Professor of Political Science; St. Olaf Accreditation Liaison Officer (convener)
Susan Canon, Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment
Mary Carlsen, Oscar and Gertrude Boe Overby Distinguished Professor of Social Work and Family Studies; Project Director, To Include is To Excel (2017-21)
María C Pabón Gautier, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion
Examples of actions to advance the initiative to date include the following:
- The revision of the college’s Strategic Plan by the St. Olaf Board of Regents in October 2020, to foreground diversity, equity and inclusion in the college’s long-term goals and metrics, and to hold leadership accountable for achieving them
- The college’s participation in the national Liberal Arts Colleges Racial Equity Leadership Alliance (LACRELA) launched in Fall 2020 by the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center, which provides access to an extensive platform of DEIA resources, professional development opportunities, and campus climate surveys of faculty, staff, and current students
- The development of the college’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism Theory of Transformation, which identifies and defines the outcomes the college is striving for and the key “domains of action” for to achieve them, and which also serves as a framework for the college’s metrics for campus climate, student success, and community outcomes
- The development and ongoing implementation of the Co-Creating an Inclusive Community project, which touches on all five of the intended goals of the Quality Initiative described above
- The expansion of the college’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion website and the Spring 2021 launch of biweekly Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Updates from the Vice President for Equity and Inclusion to the campus community
- Plans for piloting a college-wide symposium May 6-7, 2022 with presentations, posters, roundtables, and development opportunities to amplify, recognize, and celebrate the DEIA work of students, staff, faculty, and alumni
Equity and Inclusion at St. Olaf College: Assessing, Enhancing, and Sustaining the Vision will ensure that St. Olaf is providing the leadership, commitment, and resources required to build and sustain its vision of a community where all can thrive and find meaningful belonging.