Over the next week, Lawrence will begin the process of accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Accreditation is a process of reviewing a university, to confirm that it lives up to federal standards and is eligible for federal money. For higher education institutions like Lawrence, accreditation occurs once every ten years.
A group of five “peer reviewers” will arrive on campus this Monday and will stay through the day and into Tuesday.
These peers come from other universities in the 19-state area that includes Lawrence. After the work is divided up, the reviewers’ schedules will involve meetings with President Mark Burstein and his cabinet, going over a host of important documents, forums on specific topics and more.
Essentially, the accreditors will be looking to make sure Lawrence meets five major criteria. According to the HLC’s official website, the criteria are as follows: first, that “the institution’s mission is clear and articulated publicly; it guides the institution’s operations.”
Second, that “the institution acts with integrity; its conduct is ethical and responsible.”
Third, that “the institution provides high quality education, wherever and however its offerings are delivered.
Fourth, that “the institution demonstrates responsibility for the quality of its educational programs. And fifth, that “the institution’s resources, structures, and processes are sufficient to fulfill its mission” and “the institution plans for the future.”
In addition, the peer reviewers will hold open forums where they can hear faculty, staff and students’ thoughts about the university.
These will all take place on Monday and includes a discussion on Diversity and Campus Climate, which will be from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Wriston Auditorium. “The forum won’t just be about ethnic diversity,” said Associate Dean of the Faculty Bob Williams. “It includes things like political, ability, and religious diversity as well.”
The schedule can be found in its entirety on the Provost’s page on the Lawrence website.
While Williams told The Lawrentian that the administration is not concerned about being accredited again, there are some areas that they have focused on in the ten-year cycle since the last process. For example, one problem the University has prioritized has been improving the retention and graduation rates of Lawrence students who come from backgrounds that tend to have higher rates of attrition.
They also added staff to the Center for Academic Success, began the Freshman Academic Institute, and introduced summer advising. The CORE program was another invention that came from this initiative.
Williams also said that the reviewers would most likely finish their report around Thanksgiving. This will include findings on where Lawrence stands and what the administration needs to work on for the future.
A follow up meeting will take place in four years, to make sure that Lawrence has taken the constructive criticism to heart.
All in all, Williams says that the accreditation process is about confirming that Lawrence lives up to its promises. “It’s about what Lawrence says,” said Williams, “and what Lawrence does.”