Higher Learning Commission

Policy Title: Characteristics of a Decision Process

Number: INST.D.40.010

Review and Analysis of the Full Record

Commission decision-makers shall review and analyze the full record prior to taking action. The full record shall consist of documents submitted by the institution as the record of its self-analysis, as application for substantive change, or as other relevant institutional information; the Commission’s evaluation team or panel report; and any institutional responses filed by the institution. In addition, the Commission may add other documents to the record that it believes provide additional relevant information. In preparation for this review the Commission will provide appropriate training regarding the responsibilities of Commission decision-makers and regarding the Criteria for Accreditation, Assumed Practices, Federal Compliance Requirements and other policies, and their application.

Each decision-making body shall have the obligation to ensure that it has completed a review of the full record relating to each accreditation recommendation or decision.

Board of Trustees Process

The Board of Trustees may identify subcommittees or specific readers from the current membership of the Board to complete its responsibilities related to decision-making.

Institutional Actions Council Process

The IAC, working through a First Committee (Level 1) or Second Committee (Level 2), shall review the full written record of the evaluation, as defined in this policy section, and the rationale related to any recommendation. The Committee may make findings of fact related to any recommendation under consideration and may substitute its judgment for that of any evaluation team or panel where there is reasonable cause for such substitution. Such findings shall be explained in the Committee record. When the Committee’s review results in a final action, its record shall be the basis for the Commission President’s action letter. When the Committee’s review results in a recommendation to the Board, its record shall be forwarded to the Board, the institution, and the team or change panel chair, along with a letter from the President. All decisions of a Committee, whether they result in actions or recommendations, are made by majority vote. First Committees (Level 1) and Second Committees (Level 2) may defer action in keeping with the Commission’s policy on deferral.

Institutional Actions Council First Committee (Level 1) Composition

A First Committee (Level 1) shall consist of at least five (5) members drawn from the current Institutional Actions Council. In rare cases other Peer Reviewers with recent IAC experience may be included on a Committee. All Committees shall include at least one public member. A member of the Committee shall be assigned to act as chair; another member shall be assigned to record the decision of the Committee.

Review Without a Hearing. When an IAC Committee is reviewing cases for which it is authorized to take action and the institutions under review have not requested a hearing, the Committee shall conduct its business by any means that allows for synchronous or asynchronous communication among Committee members. No representatives of the institution or team shall appear at, or participate in, Committees without a hearing.

The decisions of the Committee shall become final actions, unless:

  1. the Committee makes substantial changes in the recommendation involving reaffirmation of accreditation or resulting from a focused evaluation or other monitoring, in which case either the institution or the Commission staff may request a Second Committee (Level 2) Review. If such a request is not made, the decision of the First Committee (Level 1) prevails and the action is final; or
  2. the First Committee (Level 1) recommends a sanction, withdrawal, or moving the institution from accredited to candidate status, and the First Committee (Level 1) Review did not include an in-person hearing, in which case that recommendation will be considered by a Second Committee (Level 2) prior to action by the Board of Trustees. If such a hearing was held, the case goes directly to the Board for action.

Review with an Optional Hearing. Some cases for which the IAC is authorized to take an action have the option for the institution to request a hearing as part of the review. These are:

  1. reaffirmation of accreditation;
  2. biennial visits in candidacy;
  3. focused visits; and
  4. financial and non-financial indicator monitoring.

The Commission charges the institution a fee for a requested hearing on a recommendation that does not require Board action.

The IAC, through its committee structure, will conduct the hearing. The hearing may be held in-person or electronically through any means that allows for synchronous communication among panel members. Representatives of the institution and the evaluation process shall participate in the hearing as appropriate for the nature of the hearing.

The decision of the Committee shall become the final action unless it results in a recommendation for sanction, withdrawal of status, or moving an institution from accredited to candidate status, in which case the case goes directly to the Board of Trustees for a decision.

Review with a Required Hearing. When an IAC Committee is acting as a recommending body to the Board of Trustees, the review shall include a hearing. The IAC through its committee structure shall conduct the hearing. The hearing shall be held in person unless alternative arrangements have been agreed to by the institution. Representatives of the institution and the evaluation process shall participate in the hearing.

Review with No Option for a Hearing. All decisions regarding substantive change and staff recommended monitoring or changes to the Statement of Affiliation Status that are reviewed by a First Committee (Level 1) are final and the First Committee (Level 1) decision prevails.

Institutional Actions Council Second Committee (Level 2) Composition

Composition and Assignments. The IAC Second Committee (Level 2) shall consist of at least five (5) members, drawn from a body of fifteen (15) members of the Institutional Actions Council whose terms on the Council have been extended by one additional year to complete this responsibility. A Second Committee (Level 2) shall include at least one public member. A member of the Second Committee (Level 2) shall be assigned to act as Chair; another Second Committee (Level 2) member shall be assigned to record the decision of the Committee.

The Second Committee (Level 2) is authorized to take action on decisions made by a First Committee (Level 1) that differ substantially from the recommendation provided by the evaluation process but do not involve sanction, withdrawal of status, or moving an institution from accredited to candidate status, and the institution or the Commission staff has requested the Second Committee (Level 2) review.

The institution may request that the review involve a hearing. Such hearing may be held in-person or electronically through any means that allows for synchronous communication among committee members and other participants. Representative(s) of the institution, the evaluation process, and the First Committee (Level 1) that considered the case shall participate in the hearing as appropriate for the nature of the hearing. The decision of this body shall become the final action unless it results in a recommendation for sanction, withdrawal of status, or moving an institution from accredited to candidate status, which requires Board action. However, if the Second Committee (Level 2) is considering a sanction, withdrawal of status, or moving an institution from accredited to candidate status, and consideration of the case did not involve a hearing, the Second Committee (Level 2) will schedule a hearing involving representatives of the institution and the evaluation process within thirty days of the Committee’s initial meeting prior to completing its consideration of the case. The hearing shall be an in-person hearing unless other arrangements have been agreed to by the institution.

The Second Committee (Level 2) will review cases arising from a First Committee (Level 1) in which the Committee has recommended a sanction, withdrawal of status, or moving an institution from accredited to candidate status, all of which require action by the Board of Trustees, if the First Committee (Level 1) did not include an in-person hearing. The Second Committee (Level 2) will hold a hearing as part of its review. The hearing shall be held in person unless alternative arrangements have been agreed to by the institution. Representative(s) of the institution, the evaluation process, and the First Committee (Level 1) that considered the case shall participate in the hearing.

Notice to Institution

When the action is taken by the Board, including when it differs from the recommendation arising out of the evaluation process or when the institution has contested a recommendation, the action letter shall provide information about the terms of the action, including changes to the Statement of Affiliation Status, the rationale, any subsequent steps in the decision process, and any opportunities for institutional response.

When the action is taken by the Institutional Actions Council, the action letter shall provide information about the terms of the action, including changes to the Statement of Affiliation Status. When the action differs from the recommendation arising out of the evaluation process or when the institution has contested that recommendation, the action letter will provide the rationale for the action, any subsequent steps in the decision process, and any opportunities for institutional response.

Deferral of Institutional Action

The Board of Trustees and the Institutional Actions Council may defer action on an institutional action in the following circumstances:

  1. a state agency or another recognized institutional accrediting agency has provided official notice of potential suspension, revocation, or termination of legal authority to provide education or accredited or pre-accredited status, or has denied or not approved an application for legal authority or accredited or pre-accredited status prior to the action;
  2. evidence relevant to the action or the institution’s compliance with the Criteria for Accreditation, Federal Compliance Requirements or other Commission policies may be required or anticipated within a specified period of time.

A decision to defer action will specify (a) the information that must be provided by the institution or by the Commission office to the decision-making body; (b) the means by which the Commission will acquire the information, including another on-site visit or any other means identified in Commission policy; and (c) the date on which the Commission decision-making body will consider the information and take action.

The Board of Trustees will not defer final action beyond the next regularly scheduled business meeting. The Institutional Actions Council will not defer final action longer than 70 days.

 

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Policy History

Last Revised: November 2012
First Adopted: June 2011, November 1998
Revision History: June 2012, November 2012
Notes: Policies combined November 2012 -2.2(d)2, 2.2(d)2.1, 2.2(d)2.1a, 2.2(d)2.2, 2.2(d)2.2a, 2.2(d)2.2b, 2.2(d)2.2b.1, 2.2(d)2.2b.2, 2.2(d)2.3, 2.2(g)

Policy Number Key

Section INST: Institutional Policies

Chapter D: Decision-Making Bodies and Process

Part 40: Characteristics of a Decision Process

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