Deadline approaches for Harold Washington College to renew accreditation
By David Struett
The college in the final stretch of its re-accreditation process, which is a massive, ten-year operation to renew HWC’s credentials to operate as a two-year university.
Although the date of the final inspection is over a year and a half away, the college is in high gear to prepare for the evaluation by the Higher Learning Commission.
Over 50 HWC staff members were involved in the process from the beginning, according to Michael Heathfield, the HWC faculty member who has assumed responsibility of coordinator for this cycle of re-accreditation.
Hundreds of students who have participated by giving feedback on the mission statement, a major component of the accreditation.
Staff member are working on their reports and narratives for the “self-survey” book which explains how HWC is accreditation-compliant.
HWC’s goal is a “clean slate,” proof that the college has fulfilled every single criterion of accreditation without fault.
Accreditation is vital to the school because it ensures many of its basic functions.
“Why regional accreditation is so important is that they’re the gatekeeper to ensure that we have quality programs and quality services,” said HWC President Margie Martyn.
“But why it’s critical is that the Department of Education, who is the one who disburses title IV funds and financial aid, they go off what this regional accreditor says about us, and if we’re in good standing, whether we’re allowed to give financial aid. The other really important thing is if you take coursework at a regional accredited school like Harold Washington, it will transfer to a four-year school, like DePaul or UIC, all the other four-years,” said Martyn.
Harold Washington College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, a regional accreditor based in downtown Chicago. The organization accredits over 1000 schools in 19 states, according to its website.
HWC is now preparing for its tenth-year evaluation, which is when the Higher Learning Commission decides if a school has been performing well enough to continue being accredited. The final evaluation is scheduled for October 2018 when members of HLC visit the campus.
The main components of the final evaluation include the self-study report and an in-person evaluation of the school. In the report, HWC reports how it has fulfilled the criteria of accreditation; in the evaluation, the accreditors visit the school to see if what was reported is accurate.
“A team of people, usually I think it’s three, will look through that self-study aspect, and then they’ll land for two days,” said Heathfield, “and they’ll whisk around this building like a dose of salts and meet with student groups and do all kinds of things. But what they’re really looking at is: here’s what we said, here’s what we proved. Are we going to find it when we come here?”
Until that day arrives, Heathfield and faculty are working on the self-study report, a 35,000 word document that contains all of the proof that HWC is accreditation-compliant. The first draft of the report is due this May, and then Heathfield and other staff will revise and edit the documents until the final revisions are sent to the HLC in October, one year before the final evaluation.
Schools that perform poorly during the evaluation are put on probation and expected to show improvement in a certain amount of time to renew their accreditation.
Chicago State University, which is also accredited by HLC, was placed on probation in 2016 for violating the criteria that require schools to have a “stable resource base,” according to HLC’s webpage. Due to the Illinois budget impasse and the uncertainty of school funding, HLC placed the school on probation until they could prove that funding was not an issue.
Schools that fail to show improvement to their accreditors may have their accreditation revoked. ITT Technical Institute lost its accreditation last fall and immediately went bankrupt and closed all of its campuses.