HLC accreditation decision expected soon

Determination seen as crucial importance to school

Baldwin Wallace is nearing the end of the reaccreditation process.
Every 10 years, BW undergoes an extensive evaluation to ensure that the school still meets the criteria for accreditation set by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), an independent organization that accredits over 1,000 colleges and universities. Following an in-person visit in September, the school received, and responded to, an initial draft report from the commission earlier this month. This marks the final step before an accreditation decision is rendered, which could come as early as the end of this semester.
While students may be unaware of the process or that it has been ongoing, accreditation is essential to BW, said President Robert Helmer; if the school loses its accreditation, not only would students be ineligible to receive federal financial aid, but also credits earned at BW could be rejected by any undergraduate or graduate schools.
For the past three years, BW has been actively preparing for the decennial evaluation by the HLC, said Dr. Susan Warner Taylor, director of institutional research and assessment at BW. After completing and submitting an in-depth self-study to the HLC earlier this year, BW hosted a team of five HLC peer evaluators for a day-and-a-half-long site visit in September. After leaving BW’s campus on Sept. 26, the HLC team drafted a report based on their findings.
BW received the first draft of this report on Friday, Nov. 10, said Provost Steve Stahl. After BW reviewed the report for factual errors, they sent back their official response to the HLC on Monday, Nov. 20.
The next step in the reaccreditation process will be for the HLC’s Institutional Actions Council (IAC) to review the peer evaluators’ report. After reviewing the report, the IAC will either come to a decision on BW’s accreditation status or, if the case requires it, will make a recommendation to the HLC’s Board of Trustees, who will make the official decision, said Stahl.
The next meeting of the IAC will take place on Monday, Dec. 4, and Stahl said he thinks it is likely that BW’s case will move through the process quickly.
“We are hoping that [BW’s case] will go through right away. Otherwise, it’s got to wait until January,” said Stahl. “There’s nothing controversial about the case, so we’re expecting a very quick turnaround on it.”
Currently, only a few members of BW administration know the full details of the HLC’s Nov. 10 draft report, including Helmer, Stahl, and Warner Taylor as well as Dr. Trina Dobberstein, vice president of student affairs and dean of students; Dr. Guy Farish, associate provost; and John DiGennaro, director of institutional planning and effectiveness. While Stahl was unable to disclose the specific contents of the draft report to The Exponent citing HLC stipulations, he said that its content met their expectations.
“None of us in administration were surprised by what we learned,” said Stahl. “I think we knew our strengths going in, and we certainly had those confirmed, and we had ideas on what we had to work on, and some of those were confirmed.”
Since the Nov. 10 draft report is part of an ongoing process, the HLC does not allow institutions to share contents with the public. However, after an official response is received from the HLC, Stahl indicated the findings of the final report will be able to be disclosed to the campus community.
In the meantime, Stahl said that a faculty forum was scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 30, in which some of the aspects of the draft report were to be discussed internally.
The meeting occurred after press time, but Stahl said the agenda included a discussion on the assessment of students’ core learning outcome objectives.
While this part of the accreditation process has been somewhat secretive so far, Stahl said he looks forward to receiving the HLC’s final report so that more open discussions may be had about the findings.
“Once we have the official response, then we will be able to talk publicly about what is going on,” said Stahl. “We will be able to share definitively what we have been somewhat coy about.”
Stahl expects that the BW community will be notified of the HLC’s final decision before students leave for winter break.