Higher Learning Commission

Policy Title: Process Requirements for Each Pathway

Number: INST.C.10.020

Standard Pathway

An institution on the Standard Pathway shall have its accreditation reaffirmed every ten years except for an institution that has received initial accreditation after its most recent comprehensive evaluation. Subsequent to initial accreditation, reaffirmation shall occur not more than four years after the initial accreditation action. Reaffirmation for all other institutions on the Standard Pathway shall be contingent on the institution having undergone comprehensive evaluations in years four and ten of the cycle through a process that assures the higher education community and the public that the institution continues to the meet the Criteria for Accreditation and Federal Compliance Requirements, and that the institution demonstrates a focus on continuing improvement.

Subsequent to reaffirmation, the Commission will also renew the institution’s assignment to the Standard Pathway or declare it eligible to choose another Pathway. Renewal of assignment to the Standard Pathway will be contingent on the institution demonstrating that it meets the Criteria for Accreditation and the Federal Compliance Requirements, and not receiving an action involving show-cause, probation, or withdrawal. An institution on the Standard Pathway declared eligible to choose another Pathway may move to that pathway subsequent to reaffirmation provided it files a letter of acceptance within a limited timeframe as required by the requirements of the pathway being sought. The institution may also choose to remain on the Standard Pathway.

Open Pathway

An institution on the Open Pathway shall have its accreditation reaffirmed every ten years. Reaffirmation shall be contingent on the institution having undergone an Assurance Review in year four of the cycle and a comprehensive evaluation in year ten of the cycle through processes that assure the higher education community and the public that the institution continues to meet the Criteria for Accreditation and the Federal Compliance Requirements, and demonstrates a focus on continuing improvement.

At reaffirmation, the Commission will determine whether to renew the institution’s eligibility for the Open Pathway. An institution may lose eligibility for the Open Pathway if serious concerns arise about the institution’s capacity to continue to meet the Criteria for Accreditation and Federal Compliance Requirements; the institution needs to be monitored more closely through the processes of the Standard Pathway; or the institution does not fulfill the requirements of the Open Pathway, including those of the Quality Initiative.

Process Elements Common to Open and Standard Pathway

Assurance Review. Institutions in the Open and Standard Pathways shall participate in an Assurance Review that has the following components:

  • Assurance Filing by the institution;
  • Review by the Assurance Review team composed of Commission Peer Reviewers appointed by Commission staff in accordance with team selection procedures; such review shall include analysis of the Assurance Filing as well as of information from any on-site visit conducted to institutions on the Standard Pathway or to institutions on the Open Pathway in year ten or in year four where specifically required by the Assurance Review team;
  • Written report prepared by the Assurance Review team that outlines the team’s findings related to the institution’s meeting the Criteria for Accreditation and identifies any strengths and challenges or deficiencies.

The Assurance Review for an institution with distance or correspondence education shall include a specific focus on these forms of delivery.

Assurance Filing. The Assurance Filing shall be housed on the Commission’s web-based platform, known as the Assurance System, and composed of the following parts: 1) information submitted by the institution to document evidence of meeting, and of any institutional improvement related to, the Criteria for Accreditation, which shall consist of an Assurance Argument, Evidence File, and any addenda required by the evaluation team or Commission staff to the above information; and 2) information supplied by the Commission including but not limited to summary data from the institution’s recent Institutional Update, records related to evaluation visits, official actions and correspondence, public comments, results of Commission-sponsored student surveys, complaints, and any other information the Commission deems appropriate.

For comprehensive evaluations, the Assurance Filing shall also address the Federal Compliance Requirements and, if applicable, provide information for branch campus evaluation.

Comprehensive Evaluation. An institution on the Standard Pathway and an institution in year ten of the Open Pathway shall undergo a comprehensive evaluation, which shall consist of the Assurance Review with an on-site visit. In addition to reviewing the Assurance Filing and related materials, the Assurance Review team shall also visit the institution’s main campus and other institutional locations as determined by the Commission based on its policies and procedures. For institutions that offer only distance or correspondence education, the team shall conduct its on-site visit to the institution’s administrative offices but may include other institutional locations, if any, in the on-site visit. The President of the Commission shall determine whether the liaison or other Commission staff member will accompany any visit related to an Assurance Review.

The length of the visit shall be one and one-half days, but the Commission may lengthen or shorten the visit or require that team members conduct additional on-site visits to the institution’s facilities to examine specific issues.

In a comprehensive evaluation, the team’s report will include any findings from the on-site visit, the multi-campus evaluation, if applicable, and the review of compliance with Federal Compliance Requirements.

Other Visits. When the Commission is conducting an Assurance Review for an institution in year 4 of the Open Pathway, an on-site visit will not be required; however, a team may call for an on-site visit to gather additional information not available electronically or to conduct further review of specific issues arising from the Assurance Review. In addition, if the team is considering a sanction or withdrawal, it must call for an on-site visit.

Multi-Campus Evaluation. When an institution that has multiple branch campuses undergoes a comprehensive evaluation, the Commission will send one or more Commission Peer Reviewers to visit the institution’s branch campuses. The Peer Reviewer may, but is not required to, be a member of the Assurance Review team. Such branch campus visits may precede or follow the Commission’s comprehensive evaluation visit to the institution’s main campus. The Commission will determine the campuses to be included in the branch campus visit, but the focus of the visit will be on branch campuses not recently visited by the Commission. The Peer Reviewer visiting the branch campus will complete a form outlining findings arising from the visit. The purpose of this form shall be to inform the comprehensive evaluation team regarding the quality of the institution’s branch campuses. The Peer Reviewer will make no formal recommendation, and there will be no formal Commission action arising from the branch campus evaluation visit.

Process Elements Specific to the Open Pathway

Quality Initiative. An institution on the Open Pathway shall conduct after year four and prior to year ten of its reaffirmation cycle a Quality Initiative through which it demonstrates an ongoing commitment to improving its quality. The institution shall select a topic for the Initiative that shall be reviewed and approved by a panel of Commission Peer Reviewers. The institution shall compile a report explaining the results of the initiative and no later than year nine of its reaffirmation cycle submit it to the Commission for review.

Review of the Quality Initiative Report. A panel of Peer Reviewers shall review the Quality Initiative Report. The panel shall determine whether the institution has met the stated expectations for the Quality Initiative. The panel will complete a form explaining its findings. The form will be sent with the written report resulting from the comprehensive evaluation in year ten to the Institutional Actions Council.

Process Elements Specific to the Standard Pathway

An institution on the Standard Pathway shall demonstrate institutional improvement through an approach integrated with and focused on the Criteria for Accreditation. In addition, an institution on the Standard Pathway shall demonstrate that it has made reasonable progress in resolving any concerns resulting from the previous comprehensive evaluation or raised by the Commission during the period between evaluations.

AQIP Pathway

AQIP Cycle. An institution on the AQIP Pathway shall have its accreditation reaffirmed every eight years. Reaffirmation shall be contingent on the institution having undergone a comprehensive review through a series of AQIP activities culminating in a Comprehensive Quality Review that assure the higher education community and the public that the institution continues to the meet the Criteria for Accreditation and the Federal Compliance Requirements, and demonstrates a focus on continuing improvement.

At reaffirmation, the Commission will also determine whether to renew the institution’s eligibility to participate in the AQIP Pathway. An institution may lose eligibility for the AQIP Pathway if serious concerns arise about the institution’s capacity to continue to meet the Criteria for Accreditation or Federal Compliance Requirements, the institution needs to be monitored more closely through the processes of the Standard Pathway, or the institution does not fulfill the requirements of the AQIP Pathway.

Systems Portfolio. The Systems Portfolio is a vehicle through which the institution documents its self-evaluation of its institutional systems organized around quality principles, its meeting of the Criteria for Accreditation and its provision of distance and correspondence education, if any. An institution on the AQIP Pathway shall be required to submit a Systems Portfolio no later than year three of its initial AQIP cycle, and again in year seven prior to reaffirmation with this timeline repeating in subsequent AQIP cycles.

Systems Appraisal. A team of Commission Peer Reviewers appointed by Commission staff in accordance with team selection procedures shall conduct an analysis of the Systems Portfolio submitted by the institution and shall prepare a detailed written report. The report will outline the team’s findings related to the institution's ability to meet the Criteria for Accreditation and quality expectations required for participation in the AQIP Pathway, and will include any deficiencies identified for institutional follow-up by the time of the Comprehensive Quality Review in the eighth and final year of the cycle.

Comprehensive Quality Review. The Commission staff will appoint a team of Commission Peer Reviewers in accordance with team selection procedures. The team may, but is not required to, include members previously on the institution’s Systems Appraisal team. The team shall conduct a visit to the institution’s main campus or, for institutions that offer only distance or correspondence education, to its administrative offices. The length of the visit shall be two days, but the Commission may lengthen or shorten the visit or require that team members conduct additional on-site visits to the institution’s facilities to examine specific issues. Prior to the visit the institution shall submit the required Federal Compliance materials. In preparation for the Comprehensive Quality Review, the team shall review those materials along with the entire record of the institution’s participation in the AQIP Pathway including its Systems Portfolio and Appraisal and the record of any quality improvement projects undertaken by the institution in the form of Action Projects. The Comprehensive Quality Review team will determine whether the record demonstrates that the institution meets the Commission’s requirements for reaffirmation and whether it maintains an appropriate focus on improvement sufficient to render it eligible for continued participation in the AQIP Pathway. The team members will prepare a detailed written report of their findings from the visit related to the institution’s meeting the Criteria for Accreditation and Federal Compliance Requirements, and including any deficiencies identified. The team’s report will make a recommendation to the Commission’s decision-making body regarding the institution’s reaffirmation of accreditation, including any interim monitoring or sanction, and its continued eligibility for the AQIP Pathway or eligibility for the Open Pathway. The Comprehensive Quality Review of an institution with distance or correspondence education shall include a specific focus on these forms of delivery. A Comprehensive Quality Review is required proximate to the final year of the AQIP Pathway cycle and may also occur in the fourth year based upon institutional request or a staff determination.

Multi-Campus Evaluation. When an institution that has multiple branch campuses undergoes a Comprehensive Quality Review, the Commission will send one or more Peer Reviewers to visit the institution’s branch campuses. The Peer Reviewer may, but is not required to, be a member of the Comprehensive Quality Review team. Such branch campus visits may precede or follow the Comprehensive Quality Review to the institution’s main campus. The Commission will determine the branch campuses to be included in the visit, but the focus of the visit will be on branch campuses not recently visited by the Commission. The Peer Reviewer visiting the branch campus will complete a form outlining findings arising from the visit. The purpose of this form shall be to inform the Comprehensive Quality Review team regarding the quality of the institution’s branch campuses. The Peer Reviewer will make no formal recommendation, and there will be no formal Commission action arising from the branch campus evaluation visit.


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Related Policies

COMM.B.10.010
Staff Role and Responsibility

Policy History

Last Revised: June 2014
First Adopted: June 2012
Revision History: November 2012, June 2014
Notes: Policies combined in November 2012 - 1A.2.1, 1A.2.2, 1A.2.3, 1A.2.4, 1A.2.5. 

Policy Number Key

Section INST: Institutional Policies

Chapter C: Process for Reaffirmation of Accreditation

Part 10: Substantive Requirements for Reaffirmation of Accreditation

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