It turns out that nobody is immune from exams, including the university itself.
Ten years after its last evaluation, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) is coming back to determine if Oakland University is worthy of accreditation.
The HLC is one of several accreditation agencies that evaluates all higher education institutions in 19 states. The HLC visits these institutions every 10 years, creates a report for each university and delivers the report to the U.S. Department of Education (DoE).
“Without HLC’s approval and accreditation, the Department of Education would not allow [OU] to have federal funds or have student loans that are federally funded,” Interim Associate Provost Anne Hitt said.
Due to the high stakes that come with the chance of losing accreditation, OU faculty has been working to make sure the HLC has everything they need for their February visit.
The HLC looks at a number of aspects during their visits, one of which is whether OU is following federal regulations for universities.
“There are 10 or 12 sections of the federal compliance area that need to be addressed,” said Joi Cunningham, assistant vice president of Academic Student Resources. “It goes to a lot of financial aid requirements [and] financial responsibilities for the university.”
According to Cunningham, OU must also provide disclosure statements about various topics, such as campus crime and financial aid.
Along with federal compliance, the HLC looks for what they call “continuous improvement” at institutions.
“What [continuous improvement] means is that you don’t just say ‘Well, I’m good enough.’ and just stop,” Hitt said. “You are continuously trying to make things better. To provide a better education, better services, more resources, better connections to the community — you’re trying to do all of that, and OU has done that.”
Due to the broad range of continuous improvement, the HLC will be presented with tangible improvements (Oakland Center expansion, Engineering Center, Hillcrest Hall), as well as intangible improvements (every new major since 2009, changes to the general education curriculum).
While Hitt is confident that OU will be remain accredited after the HLC visits, falling short of a perfect score would not signal the end of OU as we know it.
“Between getting accredited and not getting accredited, there is this vast range of things that can happen,” Hitt said. “[The HLC] could put things in place such that we would have to have them come back in a year or provide reports in a year or continual reporting.”
Since the HLC will be hearing a lot from the administration, they may be getting a very pro-OU story tailored to create the most glowing image of the university. To counter this, HLC inspectors will be speaking to students while they are here.
“People should try to be friendly and open to answering questions,” Hitt said. “There are six people that are coming. They are from other universities… they’re familiar with universities. They have been trained to be what they call a ‘peer reviewer’ and they are going to be asking questions to find out what really is going on at OU so they can help us make it a better place.”