Re-accreditation team visits, final report due in summer

Denise Mattson
June 01, 2017

It was more than two years in the making and engaged hundreds of DePaul faculty, staff and students. It assessed everything from whether DePaul's academic programs, student support services and enrollment profile are in line with the university's mission to the ways in which student learning and faculty teaching are evaluated. It was a full top-to-bottom institutional physical designed to ensure DePaul is a healthy institution conducting its business with integrity and effectiveness.  

It was DePaul's once-a-decade re-accreditation application to the Higher Learning Commission, which culminated in May with a site visit by a team of peer reviewers.

"Every indication is that the whole process went well and that the review team's recommendation will be positive," says Caryn Chaden, associate provost for student success and accreditation, who coordinated the application.

The HLC is an independent body that evaluates colleges and universities in 19 north central states to assure the quality of academic programs and student learning. The commission accredits the entire university, yet colleges and departments can secure additional accreditation by organizations authorized to do so in their fields, such as the American Bar Association, National Association of Schools of Music and Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. At least 10 such groups currently accredit specific programs at DePaul.

Delivering a rigorous academic program supported by a business model that builds DePaul's strength and educational excellence are important components of the Vision 2018 strategic plan, and were key elements of the argument submitted in the HLC application.  

"This was a well-prepared team," says the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M., university president. "They had done their homework before arriving and asked smart and probing questions about all aspects of DePaul."

He characterized the team as captivated by how people in every corner of the university knew and cared about the mission.  "I was proud of DePaul's readiness for the visit and how well we 'showed' to our visitors.  More than once, the team offered very high compliments about the university."

Chaden agrees. "The reviewers had suggestions for improvement going forward, but it's too soon to tell whether any of those suggestions will rise to the level of requiring a follow-up report," she says.

That final report is still several months away.

DePaul has been accredited for more than 90 years, and the process of maintaining that vital designation takes the whole university community to complete. Chaden expressed gratitude for the contributions and cooperation of people and departments across DePaul in the gathering and confirming of details for the report.

An example of how DePaul got behind the effort was when the application required a list of the highest degree earned for every adjunct faculty member - information we had begun to collect through a centralized online system, but did not yet have available for all adjunct faculty. Answering required academic department staff to search resumes of about 1,500 people on short notice.

In other cases, it was department chairs, associate deans, deans and vice presidents urging their faculty, staff and students to attend open forums and speak their minds so the reviewers could help DePaul advance.

"At the exit meeting, the chair of the review team made a point of saying that the team agreed they had never been on a visit where people were more forthcoming, sharing their experiences about DePaul and their commitment to the institution, but also, in the best spirit, sharing challenges and areas where we can improve," Chaden adds.

"In the sessions that I participated in, people had specific examples to share in response to every question the reviewers posed, whether the topic was how we act on our mission, how we serve students, or how shared governance works.  We showed ourselves well, and demonstrated how we act on the values we share."

The university now awaits the results of its assessment visit when the HLC issues its final report.