Lawrence University will be evaluated for re-accreditation by a four-person team representing the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools Feb. 23-25. The Higher Learning Commission, one of five major regional accreditation agencies in the United States, has accredited Lawrence since 1913. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the goal of accreditation is to ensure that institutions of higher learning meet acceptable levels of quality. Today, accreditation impacts the ability of colleges and universities to share or transfer academic credit, as well as the availability of federal funds for student financial aid or research. The accreditation process happens once every 10 years. For Lawrence, the process began a year-and-a-half ago, in the spring of 2007. The first step in accreditation is writing a comprehensive review of a college or university’s programs. This review, called a self-study, is an enormous undertaking. The self-study must demonstrate how Lawrence meets a total of 21 criteria set by the commission. The self-study gathers examples of things done on campus such as budget management, curriculum planning and student academic support. “We also are expected to identify areas for institutional advancement, areas where we think we need to or should improve relative to the accreditation criteria,” said Associate Dean of Faculty Nancy Wall. To accomplish this task, Wall began by heading a committee consisting of faculty and staff members Bill Skinner, Lori Glynn, Amy Uecke, Bill Hixon, Michael Kim and Ruth Lanouette. This committee formed to gather an outline of evidence for the college’s accreditation. The committee was expanded to 15 members during the summer of 2008 for the purpose of writing first drafts of the self-study based on the outline. Next, the president’s cabinet, faculty and staff reviewed the self-study, and a final draft was submitted to the Higher Learning Commission at the end of 2008. The commission put together a team of people trained to review and evaluate institutions. Although a firm schedule has not yet been established, during their visit, the team will meet with the president, the president’s cabinet, and the trustees. They have also requested open meetings with the students, faculty and staff and a lunch with student leaders. “The point of this process is to take a moment to focus on what we do well and what things we need to improve upon, so student input will be valuable to the review team,” said Dean of Students Nancy Truesdell, encouraging student participation in the open meeting. After the team has completed its review, they will submit a report with recommendations for the institution’s accreditation status to the Higher Learning Commission. The report on Lawrence will be finalized and submitted around late May 2009. Faculty and staff fully expect Lawrence to receive accreditation. “Institutional accreditation began over 100 years ago as a form of voluntary peer review to help ensure you’re maintaining a good quality program,” said Wall. “As higher education has evolved, so has the process, but at its heart, it’s really a way for an institution to self-evaluate and then have a peer-review team look at that self-evaluation and make sure you’re able to monitor your own quality.