Self Study/Accreditation FAQs

What is accreditation?

Accreditation is formal recognition of the high quality of an educational program or institution. Accreditation assures prospective students and the public that the program or institution meets educational standards established by an outside agency.

Educational accreditation falls under two categories: institutional and specialized.

The Higher Learning Commission (HLC), a commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA), grants institutional accreditation. Institutional accreditation results from a positive evaluation of the entire institution. The evaluation encompasses everything from admissions to educational activities and student learning, as well as overall effectiveness, governance, administration, financial stability, student services, resources, and relationships with internal and external constituencies.

Specialized accreditation, or program accreditation, is conducted by various accrediting bodies. Specialized accreditation applies to particular schools or to specific programs within an educational institution.

John Wood Community College falls under the category of institutional accreditation. The school is accredited by the HLC and is a member of the NCA. JWCC is also recognized by the Illinois Community College Board and the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

What is the Higher Learning Commission (HLC)?

Institutional accreditation is provided by regional associations of schools and colleges (each named after the region in which it operates: Middle States, New England, North Central, Northwest, Southern, and Western). The Higher Learning Commission (HLC is part of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA) and is empowered to conduct accrediting activities for degree-granting organizations of higher education. Specifically, it grants membership to educational institutions in the nineteen-state North Central region: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

The Commission's mission statement is as follows: Serving the common good by assuring and advancing the quality of higher learning. The HLC is committed to developing and maintaining high standards of excellence. The HLC was previously referred to as the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA).

What's involved in the evaluation process?

The evaluation for accreditation is a five-step process:

  1. The process begins with a self-study, whereby the institution applying to be accredited or reaccredited evaluates its effectiveness in meeting its mission. The institution prepares a report of its findings for the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
  2. The HLC sends a team of consultant-evaluators to the institution to conduct a comprehensive visit. The team writes a report of its findings.
  3. An HLC Readers Panel reviews the documents generated during the comprehensive visit.
  4. An HLC decision-making body takes action on the Readers Panel recommendations.
  5. In some cases, the Board of Trustees of the HLC takes the final action in accreditation.
By what criteria does the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) judge an institution?

The HLC reviews educational institutions based on how well they meet five basic criteria. The Criteria for Accreditation are as follows:

Criterion 1: Mission -- The institution's mission is clear and articulated publicly; it guides the institution's operations.

Criterion 2: Integrity:  Ethical and Responsible Conduct -- The institution acts with integrity; its conduct is ethical and responsible.

Criterion 3: Teaching and Learning:  Quality, Resources, and Support --The institution provides high quality education, wherever and however its offerings are delivered.

Criterion 4: Teaching and Learning:  Evaluation and Improvement -- The institution demonstrates responsibility for the quality of its educational programs, learning environments, and support services, and it evaluates their effectiveness for student learning through processes designed to promote continuous improvement.

Criterion 5: Resources, Planning, and Institutional Effectiveness -- The institution's resources, structures, and processes are sufficient to fulfill its mission, improve the quality of its educational offerings, and respond to future challenges and opportunities.  The institution plans for the future.*

*Handbook of Accreditation, 3rd ed. (Chicago, Illinois: Higher Learning Commission, 2003). For additional information please go to:

http://ncahlc.org/Information-for-Institutions/criteria-for-accreditation.html

How often does an institution need to get reaccredited?

Every institution must reaffirm its accreditation no later than five years after it has been initially granted and no later than ten years following each subsequent reaffirmation. Accreditation is not for a specific length of time and is subject to review.

What is the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) self-study?

Prior to applying for reaccreditation, an institution engages in a study of its own effectiveness in achieving its mission. The self-study, typically extending for approximately two years, is an opportunity for the institution to engage in a comprehensive self-examination of how well it is meeting its identified goals and to put into place changes or plans for improvements. In this process, the institution evaluates itself based on the Criteria for Accreditation established by the accrediting body, the HLC. The self-study is conducted through a concerted effort involving individuals from the entire campus community. An HLC Steering Committee coordinates the self-study process with the assistance of seven subcommittees and multiple project teams for each subcommittee. In an effort to ensure broad participation in institutional self-assessment, these working groups include representatives from the faculty, staff, student body, and administration. At the end of the self-study, the institution prepares a self-study report for the HLC to use as a basis for evaluating the institution.

What is a comprehensive visit?

The Higher Learning Commission consultant-evaluators visit campuses for three days to confirm that what is stated in the self-study report is accurate. The team of consultant-evaluators review documents; interview staff, faculty, and students; and confirm processes and infrastructure.

The team has eleven weeks to review the complete self-study report prior to visiting a campus. During the visit, team members validate the content of the report to ensure that an institution's data supports the strengths outlined in the report. The team also looks into any current or potential concerns or issues. Consultant-evaluators meet with key individuals and representative groups from across an institution. When the team visits John Wood Community College, activities will take place on our campuses. Prior to leaving the campus, the team will make an exit report available to key administrative officers on their preliminary findings.

When will the comprehensive visit at John Wood Community College take place?
The consultant-evaluators will arrive on our campus in the Spring of 2013.
Who are the consultant-evaluators?

Consultant-evaluators are administrators and faculty members from other universities. They are highly trained by the Higher Learning Commission in using the criteria for accreditation to review academic institutions. The team will evaluate the institutional quality at John Wood Community College and make recommendations for how we can continue to improve.

In the United States, accreditation is a peer-review process. Neither state nor the federal government has any role in the accreditation process.

Will the consultant-evaluators meet with faculty, staff, and students?
Faculty, staff, and students will have opportunities to speak with the consultant-evaluators during open forums. Forum schedules and locations will be distributed prior to the visit. The consultant-evaluators might also stop individuals on campus to ask general questions about their experience at John Wood Community College. They will introduce themselves to you as members of the Higher Learning Commission team visiting the campus.
What types of questions will the consultant-evaluators ask?
Consultant-evaluators will gather various perspectives regarding John Wood Community College from students, faculty, staff, and administrators. They may ask members of the JWCC to share their understanding of the school's mission and/or to describe the JWCC based on their own experiences. They may also ask individuals about their area of expertise.
How will the findings be reported?
The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) will write a report that addresses the core components of its five Criteria for Accreditation. The report includes an "Assurance" section and an "Advancement" section. In the "Assurance" section, the evaluating team notes whether each component has been met and includes any questions or concerns regarding it. In the "Advancement" section, the evaluating team may offer advice to John Wood Community College about issues that might be of concern. JWCC’s president receives a draft of the report within six weeks of the visit. He will have an opportunity to correct factual errors and must submit the final report to the HLC no more than nine weeks after the site visit.
What kinds of recommendations might the site-visit team make in regard to the reaccreditation of John Wood Community College (JWCC)?

JWCC is seeking reaccreditation for ten years (the maximum), with no follow-up reports or focused visits required. The evaluation team can make various recommendations, including reaccreditation for ten years with various follow-up reports or focused visits. These may be required to ensure that JWCC is addressing any concerns or questions that came up during the accreditation process.

JWCC has enjoyed a very positive accreditation history with the HLC. Significant recommendations are possible, though JWCC has continuously demonstrated not only stability and progress, but also exceptional growth and impressive academic performance.

Does the public have access to the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) reports?
One of the main points of accreditation is to ensure the public that an institution meets certain standards. Prospective students, other educational institutions, and employers may want to examine an educational institution's accreditation to assure quality educational programming. The HLC posts the names of affiliated institutions on its Web site. It maintains a Statement of Affiliation Status (SAS) and an Organizational Profile (OP) on each affiliated institution, along with a summary of the institution's official relationship with the HLC. The OP contains information taken from the annual report that each institution provides to the HLC.
Is John Wood Community College (JWCC) accredited?

Yes, JWCC is an affiliate of the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and since it is located in the North Central region, it is accredited by the HLC of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA). The following is a brief history of JWCC’s accreditation:

  • JWCC was granted candidacy status by the HLC in 1976, a transitional step toward accreditation.
  • The school first fulfilled eligibility requirements and became accredited with the HLC in 1980.
    • The last self-study and comprehensive visit occurred in 2002-2003.
    • JWCC is currently accredited through the Program to Evaluate and Advance Quality (PEAQ) Model.
    • JWCC had a focus visit on assessment conducted in 2007 for the HLC.
Why is accreditation important to John Wood Community College (JWCC)?

Institutional accreditation has two main purposes: quality assurance and institutional improvement.

Accreditation recognizes that an institution meets certain quality standards. Meeting these standards provides some assurance that credits and degrees earned will be of high quality and respected by other educational institutions. Accreditation is attractive to students because they are more likely to be able to transfer course credits to other institutions. Accreditation also provides students with greater access to financial aid and federal funding.

The self-study provides JWCC with a tested format through which it can identify its strengths and challenges. Accreditation recognizes that JWCC has gone through the evaluation process and developed a strategy to improve its services and programs.

Prospective students, other educational institutions, and employers examine an educational institution's accreditation to assure quality educational programming.

What is the timeline for reaccreditation of John Wood Community College (JWCC)?
Following are key events for this process:
  • JWCC will conduct a thorough self-evaluation of its operations resulting in a formal self-study that we will submit to the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
  • The self-study process will span November 2011 through winter 2012.
  • In December 2012, JWCC will submit its self-study to the HLC for evaluation.
  • A team of consultant-evaluators will make a comprehensive site visit to JWCC in the Spring of 2013.
  • The recommendation of the evaluation team for reaccreditation will be presented and considered by the Review Committee of the HLC.
  • The recommendation of the Review Committee will be presented and acted upon by the Board of Trustees of the HLC. It is this body that actually grants and renews accreditation.
  • It is expected that JWCC will receive official notice of its status in Fall 2013.
As an accredited institution, does John Wood Community College (JWCC) need to fulfill any ongoing obligations to the Higher Learning Commission (HLC)?
JWCC and all accredited institutions agree to voluntarily meet obligations of affiliation, which may include undergoing periodic reviews, completing annual and other reports, hosting visits, and paying dues and fees. Every institution must reaffirm its accreditation no later than five years after it has been initially granted and no later than ten years following each subsequent reaffirmation. Accreditation is not for a specific length of time and is subject to review. Accredited institutions must also notify the HLC for permission to make any change that might alter its relationship with the HLC.
Where can I get more information on accreditation?
Visit the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools at http://ncahlc.org/.
Comments or questions?
Questions and/or comments are welcome and encouraged. Please direct them to jwelker@jwcc.edu.