University officials praise new accreditation system


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Several university officials said they have been impressed with a recent accreditation system change since the program’s implementation in September. The Open Pathways system now enhances rigor and institutional value of the universities’ accreditation, according to regent officials.

At the state Board of Regents meeting on Wednesday, University of Iowa Associate Provost Beth Ingram and Associate Provost of Academic Programs of Iowa State David Holger gave a summary of how the new Open Pathway system has worked for both schools. The regents voted to put the system into place in February 2013, and it was officially started in September.

The original accreditation system review occurred once every 10 years. There would be an on-site visit to the campus, an assurance review, and a federal compliance review. “There would be a flurry of activity,” said Ingram. “Twenty people would show up on your campus for a week and tear apart everything that went on your campus.”

Holger said that all three of the regent schools were part of the Open Pathway system because they all had “clean slates” at the previous 10-year accreditation check. Two months after the system has been put in place, regent school officials say they are happy with the new process.

“I think the quality improvement project is the most helpful,” Ingram said. “It asks us to engage in a project of interest to us and of relevance to our strategic plan that can help us improve the UI.”

Ingram said that the original system was not very useful, and so the goal became to change the process.

The Open Pathway system is associated with the accrediting agency Higher Learning Commission, an independent corporation and one of six regional institutional accreditors in the United States.

The Higher Learning Commission accredits degree-granting institutions in the North Central region of the United States — which includes the regent institutions. The new process includes three pieces: the new assurance review, the quality initiative, and the comprehensive review.

The new assurance review is an online process, which limits universities to 75 pages worth of words to explain how the schools have been complying with the accrediting agency requirements. The original assurance review, however, was printed by the university for the agency’s on-site visit to campus and could add up to 700 pages. The second portion, the quality initiative, is a project of the campus’ choosing, which is approved by the Higher Learning Commission, and then pursued over three years. The school conducts a study to learn how an aspect of the university may or may not be working on their campus. At the end of the three years, the Higher Learning Commission reviews the project.

Ingram noted that the quality initiative doesn’t necessarily have to work perfectly. “They want to know ‘Are you capable of looking at something important, and using the results of what you find out to improve your university’,” Ingram said.

The last portion of the system is the comprehensive review. The on-site review now happens twice in the 10 years — once in the fourth year and once in the 10th year. Previously, the system allotted a review once every 10 years. “It’s a very big change in how we get accredited,” Ingram said.

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