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Visiting Higher Learning Commission team gave no indications of what corrective actions may be required at Northwest College

Last month’s visit to Northwest College by a Higher Learning Commission team brought the good news that the college met criteria for accreditation, but it also left some big question marks.

“The only surprise to us was not having a little more detailed specifics,” said Bob Krenz, NWC interim vice president for academic affairs. “Normally, when an HLC team leaves, when they note problems, they will list specific corrections.

“This time, they listed positives and a few negatives, then they said, ‘We’ll get back on what we want you to do,’ — which is apparently unusual.”

 

Positives identified in the team’s report included the college’s strong commitment to student learning, its responsiveness and good relationship with the community, its dynamic residential life program and well-resourced creativeness in making sure students continue their education.

Negatives focused on shared governance and a “need for collegiality,” or a cooperative relationship between colleagues. The team also recommended integrating planning, assessment and budgeting processes.

After making those recommendations, a team normally would have outlined correction checks, Krenz said. Those could include measures such as a monitoring report in a year or two, when institution leaders explain what they’ve done to correct the situation, or setting up a focused visit, when the commission sends a few people back to the college to look at identified issues.

“Obviously, we’d like to know what we’re getting, and when,” Krenz said.

Accreditation — in NWC’s case, through the Higher Learning Commission — must be renewed at colleges and universities every 10 years to ensure education provided by institutions of higher education meets expected levels of quality. Accreditation also is required for a college or university to remain eligible for most federal funding.    

Overall, NWC President Paul Prestwich said, the Higher Learning Commission team’s visit went well.

“We were well-prepared for it,” he said. “Of course, that was due to years of work with the self study.”

He praised the self study, researched and written by faculty members Duane Fish and Renee Dechert.

“The self study was a good, honest reflection — it was up-front about things we do well and challenges we have.”

But Prestwich also expressed some surprise at the lack of directives at the end of the visit.

“It is fairly unusual” not to get some direction at the end of the team’s visit, he said. “But even had they had a verbal indication ... the real key is the written report. It’s just a matter of time of waiting to see what that will look like.”

That report will identify “follow-up kinds of actions, which are years down the road,” he said. “For now, the reality is that their assessment of us is a fair one, and we know what we need to work on. We just need to work on it.”

Prestwich said the written report usually is expected within about six weeks after the team’s visit.

Other than the lack of indication of any corrective actions, Krenz said, “I was not a bit surprised by what I heard and what I saw.

“Both the positives and the negatives the team listed at the end of the interview are exactly what we would have listed ourselves. We’re already working on those, so it’s not like we’re waiting, but we’re working on it.”

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