Higher Learning Commission

Higher Learning Commission content



"Regional accreditation assures quality by verifying that an institution (1) meets threshold standards and (2) is engaged in continuous improvement." 

- HLC Open Pathways Booklet


HLC Contacts:

Ms. Natalie Solverson, Director of Institutional Research, Assessment, and Planning | Assurance Process Coordinator & Accreditation Liaison Officer

Dr. Sandra Grunwald, Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs | Quality Initiative Coordinator

Contributors to the Assurance Argument 

Important dates:

August 2015
  • UWL files report on University Quality Initiative, Firm Footing
  • Draft of Assurance Argument completed
Fall 2015 
  • University Review of Assurance Argument
  • Complete data collection and compilation for Evidence File
  • Complete data collection and compilation for Federal Compliance Filing
January 2016 
  • Final Draft of Assurance Argument completed
  • Federal Compliance Filing completed
March 11, 2016 
  • Assurance Argument and Federal Compliance Filing locked for review
April 11-12, 2016
  • Site Visit for Comprehensive Review
What is HLC? expanding section

HLC is the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. Two independent entities belong to the NCA: Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (CASI) for elementary, secondary, and non degree-granting postsecondary schools, and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). NCA-HLC is generally referred to now as just "HLC". 

How do I participate in the Public Comment period? expanding section

The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse is seeking comments from the public about the university in preparation for its periodic evaluation by its regional accrediting agency. UWL will host a visit April 11-12, 2016, with a team representing the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. UWL has been accredited by the Commission since 1928. The team will review the institution’s ongoing ability to meet the Commission’s Criteria for Accreditation. The public is invited to submit comments regarding the university to the HLC through the Commission’s Web site. Comments must address substantive matters related to the quality of the institution or its academic programs. Comments must be in writing. All comments must be received by March 10, 2016.

Why does accreditation matter? expanding section

From a practical standpoint, accreditation matters because it permits UW-La Crosse to offer  federal Financial Aid  - like Pell Grants and subsidized student loans - to our students. Regionally accredited institutions typically accept transfer credit from other regionally accredited institutions. The process ensures that the degrees and programs we offer meets a recognized standard of quality.

What is the Open Pathway? expanding section

Open Pathway is a new accreditation process available to post-secondary institutions that meet HLC's  requirements for participation. At the time of 2005-2006 accreditation process, UW-La Crosse participated in PEAQ (Program to Evaluate and Advance Quality), and HLC is discontinuing PEAQ as an option for accreditation processes. Accreditation remains on a ten-year cycle, with a comprehensive evaluation scheduled in Year 10 for the institution. UWL was at Year 6 in the ten year cycle when notified of the transition to Open Pathway.

The Open Pathway accreditation process has two primary components: the Quality Initiative and the Assurance Review. Because of the abbreviated timeline for this Open Pathway process, the Quality Initiative was compressed into Years 7-9 (2012-13 through 2014-15). The  Quality Initiative, which is UWL's Firm Footing Initiative for this accreditation cycle, is evaluated like a "pass/fail" course, encouraging the university to take risks and learn from those efforts. 

Where's the self-study? expanding section

In short - it's gone. 

In the past, the purpose of the self-study in PEAQ was to assure quality "by verifying that an institution (1) meets threshold standards and (2) is engaged in continuous improvement. The Open Pathway process employs theQuality Initiative as the continuous improvement component of accreditation, and the Assurance Reviews as the evidence of meeting threshold standards.

In a full ten-year cycle, there will be two Assurance Reviews, one asynchronously at Year 4 and one at Year 10 as part of the comprehensive evaluation. The institution must complete the Year 4 Assurance Review in order to propose and undertake its next Quality Initiative. The comprehensive evaluation at Year 10 (2015-16) consists of an Assurance Review, a review of Federal Compliance, and an on-site visit, and an multi-campus review when applicable. In addition, Institutional Research is responsible for coordinating and responding to the HLC's Institutional Update (formerly Annual Institutional Data Update), which is considered a component of the accreditation process.

A goal of the Open Pathway accreditation process is "...to reduce the reporting burden on institutions by utilizing as much information and data as possible from existing institutional processes and collecting them in electronic form as they naturally occur over time."  To this end, the Assurance Argument takes a standard form across all institutions participating in Open Pathway. All institutions have an online repository through HLC for the Assurance Argument and Evidence File documents. The Assurance Argument is limited to 35,000 words, and supporting evidence must be uploaded to the Evidence File in Adobe PDF format. The size of the PDF files are limited to prevent institutions from uploading media files. The Assurance Argument is structured as a call-and-response, where the University must address the Criteria for Accreditation as specifically outlined in the Assurance Argument interface. There is one photo permitted in Introduction to the Assurance Argument.

Will the campus have the opportunity to review the Assurance Argument prior to submission? expanding section

Yes. While the structure of the accreditation process has changed, we plan to provide opportunity for review and comment by members of the campus community. The timeline for this opportunity is the fall semester of the 2015-2016 school year.