Higher Learning Commission: What students need to know

PAYTON CLARK, News Editor

“As a Christian liberal arts university, OBU transforms lives by equipping students to pursue academic excellence, integrate faith with all areas of knowledge, engage a diverse world and live worthy of the high calling of God in Christ.” Students, faculty and staff all know the OBU mission statement, but how has it been applied in day to day life?

Sept. 25 and 26, representatives from universities across the country will be on campus to evaluate OBU for improvement in academics and its mission. This is part of a process of reaccreditation from the Higher Learning Commission that occurs every 10 years.

“Big picture, the dates are the 25th and 26th. These are five people that come from institutions just like ours from all around the Midwest,” associate vice president for institutional effectiveness Andrew Spencer said. “They are going to host open forums where the students, staff and faculty will all be invited.”

Spencer said students should be mindful of their presence and efforts to receive feedback.

“These are people that are asking questions and seeking to find out how we are doing, they want to hear peoples’ perspectives,” Spencer said. “We want to make sure the whole community is welcoming towards them and we are aware that they’re here.”

Spencer said he believes the ideal hope is that people will at least know that the HLC is an accreditor.

“What does that mean? They certify that we’re a good school that operates with the right standards,” Spencer said. “If students know that then we’re doing great.”

Within the next two weeks, there will be multiple ways students can become aware and learn about the HLC visit.

“We’re going to make a short advertisement video that would be played at the beginning of chapel the week before, and we’ll have slides up on the screens in the GC,” Spencer said.

“Once we know the times of the forums, we’ll invite people out to them. I’m also going to ask faculty to remind students the week prior to be aware of the visit.”

The most important thing for students to know is that their feedback is wanted and valued in the accreditation process.

“If there is one thing we want to get across, it is first to get students to come to the events when they are announced because we really want them there,” Spencer said. “Second, students need to be willing to talk about their experience, the good and the opportunities for improvement. We want to hear students say those things, and they should feel free to share whatever their experience is.”

Students can learn more about the HLC and earn chapel credit through the Faith and Learning panel discussion.

“That’s a big piece of OBU and what we do, how we integrate faith and learning with all areas of knowledge because it’s part of our mission,” Spencer said. “We’re going to have faculty panel discussion about how that works in different disciplines, and we’ll advertise that in the same ways.”

According to Spencer, there are six regional accreditors authorized by the Department of Education to give assessment, giving institutions more credibility.

“When you take your diploma to a business, they want to see that you came from a regionally accredited institution, and the vast majority of higher education institutions are,” Spencer said. “In order to receive financial aid, students have to attend an institution that has been certified or accredited by one of these bodies. Any sort of governmental aid requires us to continue this accreditation.”

While many students might not find the HLC visit important, co-chair of the HLC Committee Dr. Bobby Kelly believes it has tremendous impacts on students through education and financial aid.

“Accreditation is necessary in order for students to receive federal grants, such as Pell Grants,” Kelly said.

“More than financial, the internal evaluation that has been going on for several years at OBU should result in a higher quality education.”

Accreditation is significant in helping students find jobs following graduation, determining if they received a credible education.

“Ultimately, when you graduate and look for a job, potential employers will consider whether OBU is accredited by a reliable agency,” Kelly said.

“If your degree is from a school that has questionable accreditation, it will call into question the validity of your degree and whether you are prepared to be an excellent employee.”

The HLC grants reaccreditation by determining whether OBU maintains standards in five different areas, including mission, integrity, teaching quality, teaching evaluation/improvement and resources.

“There are areas that we continue to work on, one of which is how we assess academic programs,” Spencer said. “Faculty have done a lot of work in the past couple years to ask ‘Are we teaching in way that students understand? Are students learning in a way that prepares them for their careers ahead?’ So that assessment process is one thing that has significantly improved over the past 10 years.”

According to Kelly, the areas of teaching and learning have seen many advancements in recent years.

“In my own area (Hobbs College), we believed we were doing an excellent job of educating our students, but we did not have ongoing processes that would provide data to substantiate our belief,” Kelly said. “Over the past two years, we have worked to develop Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) growing out of our understanding of our mission as a blueprint for shaping syllabi and overall effectiveness.”

Other specific improvements can be seen through campus life, enrollment numbers and the grounds keeping.

“The campus looks better; we’ve worked with the Women of Vision to raise money for lighting and the access card system which is expanding over time,” Spencer said. “Those are all things the institution has done to improve. They exceed the minimum standard of the accreditation process, but we’ve done those things to improve and help make students’ lives here better.”

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