By Bridget Lenczewski
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About every ten years, St. John’s and St. Ben’s undergo a process that all secondary education institutions must undergo: accreditation. The accreditation process is a process in which an institution is assessed on whether they are meeting basic standards and successfully striving for its stated mission. If the institution meets these standards and is making strides towards meeting its goal, the institution is accredited. For its students to receive financial aid from the federal government and to award degrees, an institution must be accredited. For an institution to award degrees at all, the institution must be accredited.
CSB/SJU, being in the central region of the country, are under the evaluation of the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The HLC is an organization, separate from the government, that is responsible for accrediting institutions. In order to maintain accreditation with the HLC, CSB/SJU must participate in a ten-year cycle focused on quality assurance and institutional improvement. Although the comprehensive evaluation report is only conducted once every ten years, the process of accreditation is ongoing, with administrators compiling files beginning years in advance of the comprehensive evaluation.
The HLC has various criteria that secondary education institutions must meet to be deemed a valid institution.
“We have to put together a very large file with lots of supporting evidence that is electronically submitted to the HLC. It includes everything, from the course catalog to financial statements to links to assessment data that we have on student learning, to show that we are accomplishing what we say that we are accomplishing,” Provost Richard Ice said. “A big part of it is assessment of student learning — can we say that students are learning what we say they are learning here?
In addition to setting criteria for institutions to meet, the HLC uses peer review to evaluate institutions. Firstly, surveys asking for student input have been sent out by email. This is one thing the review team will be examining. In addition, the HLC will choose faculty and administrators from other institutions to visit the campuses of CSB/SJU and determine whether the institution meets the standards for accreditation. In mid-March, an open forum for student input will be held while the site visiting team is on campus. Students are encouraged to attend.
“It is a way for administrators to hear student thoughts and for students to be able to share their experiences at St. Ben’s and St. John’s and to contribute to the validity of our institutions,” St. Ben’s Senate President Mary Catherine Steenberge said. “It is really valuable to get that in-person feedback, those personal experiences that are taking place at the institutions.”
Following the onsite peer review visit and assessment, St. Ben’s and St. John’s will receive reports that affirm the institutions’ accreditation or not, as well as suggest things that could be done to improve the institutions.