Sara Hofer — Staff Writer
On Oct. 3, five peer reviewers from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) accreditation agency came to evaluate Dordt University and the student experience. Since 1969, the North Central Commission – now the HLC – has accredited Dordt, providing quality education and experience to students.
Every institution in the country is accredited by at least one agency. The HLC has accredited Dordt since the 1960s through a set of standards the institution must meet to receive accreditation status.
This process is based on a system of peer reviews where educators from other institutions of higher education conduct evaluations of their peers. The HLC acts as an institution wide accreditation, but specific majors require special accreditation. For example, the State of Iowa evaluates the education department.
Jim Bos, Registrar and Director of Institutional Research, along with Leah Zuidema, Teresa Ter Haar, Ryan Zonnefeld, Jeff Ploegstra, and former student body president Daniel Moe, have been working alongside the HLC to accredit Dordt.
“The HLC is an organization that makes sure we are abiding by all federal laws” Bos said. “They evaluate whether we are an institution that credibly tries to do what we say we do.”
The HLC uses five criteria to evaluate an institution: mission, integrity, academic quality, assessment, and resources. The mission guides the overall operations of the institution. It demonstrates a commitment to the public good while also providing civic engagement in both society and on a global scale.
The second criteria, integrity, evaluates the policies and procedures of the administration, faculty, and staff to ensure fair and ethical behavior towards students and the public.
Academic quality, the third criteria, analyzes how the institution provides education, focusing on what it offers to students. It also evaluates whether the faculty and curriculum meet the typical standards for undergraduate or graduate programs.
The fourth criteria is assessment. Assessment looks at the evaluation of student learning as a whole and continual improvement of the institution.
The fifth criteria, resources, evaluates whether an institution has the available resources to do what they are set out to do through their mission.
“They don’t want institutions to slide by,” Bos said. “The HLC wants to take a good look and evaluate them.”
Even though accreditors only visit campus every ten years, Dordt works with the HLC between each decade cycle.
In the first three years after an accreditation Dordt must provide the HLC with annual updates about the institution. Some of these updates include the number of incoming students, graduating students, and annual budget, to make sure Dordt is operating well.
By year four, Dordt must write an assurance argument following the five criteria that is peer reviewed as an assurance review by an HLC board. The assurance argument shows evidence of how Dordt is fulfilling the criteria.
Between years five and nine, institutions work on a quality initiative proposal that demonstrates improvements made to grow the institution. Specifically, Dordt re-evaluated the CORE program to see if they were meeting the institutional goals. Dordt conducted student focus groups to gather perspectives on what they believe would improve the program.
When year ten arrives, the HLC reviews the assurance argument and evidence filed by Dordt. A site team then comes to Sioux Center to ensure the assurance argument matches what they observe on campus.
“We want to make sure we are accurate in continually preparing ourselves for higher education,” Bos said.
Dordt values accreditation for practical reasons. In order to receive federal financial aid for students, Dordt needs federal accreditation. It is also important for students pursuing graduate studies, taking the CPA or nursing exam, or transferring institutions.
“The criteria exist for students,” Bos said. “HLC is an institution from the outside looking in checking to make sure that we are promoting student success through our overall mission.”