If you’ve seen the red t-shirts stating “Let’s Rock This,” you may have wondered what exactly Malone is rocking. Those t-shirts refer to the accreditation renewal for which Malone is currently preparing. The Higher Learning Commission is scheduled to visit campus on Sept. 24-26, 2012.
Accreditation is simply a process that an institution has to go through to demonstrate that they have met standards set by federal regulations according to Charles Lartey, director of assessment.
Lartey said the accreditation is important for two reasons: accountability as an institution and to demonstrate effectiveness.
In order to be renewed for accreditation, Malone has to prepare a self-study.
“If you want an accreditation agency to visit you to renew your accreditation you have to prepare a self-study report … to demonstrate that you are meeting the accreditation requirements,” Lartey said.
The HLC has five criteria that must be met. According to Lartey, those five criteria are: mission and integrity; preparing for the future; student learning and effective teaching; acquisition, discovery and application of knowledge; engagement and service.
“We are not doing assessment just because HLC is coming,” he said. “It’s important that you be able to establish a culture of assessment to be continuously in a position to improve.”
Provost Donald Tucker said the self-study report started 18 months ago and that the whole process takes about two years.
According to Tucker, this self-study report essentially provides an opportunity to assess what areas are doing well and what areas need improvement. He also emphasized that another crucial need for accreditation is the direct correlation between accreditation and eligibility for financial aid. A university cannot receive financial aid for students without the approval from an accreditation commission.
The self-study report is developed by multiple committees that all work together, according to Tucker. There is the steering committee, which oversees the whole process to ensure standards are being met. Underneath are five committees – each one geared toward one of the five criteria.
“They have spent the last year and half collecting data, analyzing it and submitting reports,” Tucker said.
These committees are made up of faculty, students, trustees, alumni and staff people depending on the committee, Tucker said. With the accreditation visit nearing, the committees are close to finishing the report.
“We’re toward the end of the self-study,” Tucker said. “We expect to have a public draft that will go up on the website sometime towards the end of April, which will give everyone the opportunity to read and comment. It’s not the final one because we want to get feedback from it and make some final modifications.”
One of the central focuses of this report is the third criteria, which has to deal with assessment. According to Lartey, the HLC recommended improvement in that area on their last visit in 2009.
“One of the concerns of the higher learning commission was that Malone was not as intentional about measuring student learning and verifying that student learning took place,” Tucker said. “On the other hand, nationally, 75 percent of all college universities in the U.S. are all chided by the accreditors as needing better assessment.”
Despite that concern, both Tucker and Lartey feel confident that Malone has improved.
“In the last couple years we have made significant improvements in being clear about what we’re measuring and how we do it, so I feel quite good about that,” Tucker said.
The self-study report findings have revealed both strengths and weaknesses of Malone as an institution according to Tucker. He identified strategic planning as a weakness.
“What we need to do, then, is when we know where the gaps are, let’s be intentional filling in that gap so ten years from now, that gap disappears,” he said.
On the positive side, he stated Malone’s strengths as service engagement among the students as well as the quality of the faculty in terms of “their competence in teaching and there commitment to serving the institution.”
“We have an exceptionally good faculty,” Tucker said. “I would hold this faculty up against any faculty in the council of Christian college universities.”
The HLC visit in late September will involve 8-10 individuals from other universities analyzing and evaluating Malone as an institution. They will interview students, board members, faculty and staff in both formal and informal settings. According to Tucker, there will be a lunch set up with students, though he also said they may stop students randomly on campus and ask questions.
“At the beginning of the fall we will remind everyone that the team is coming – be kind, give them directions how to get to places, smile – which I think we do a pretty good job at as a campus,” Tucker said. “I think we welcome visitors pretty well so we don’t really need to act any differently than normal, just be aware that they’re on campus.”
Both Tucker and Lartey are confident in a positive accreditation evaluation.
“We feel pretty good about who we are as an institution. Our self-study has already identified some very good strengths,” Tucker said.
“Malone is a very unique university because of our mission statement,” Lartey said. “Every university is guided by its mission statement. You have to demonstrate that you are fulfilling the mission statement. I think we are doing very well.”