MIU passes key accreditation milestone

MIU recently completed its “Year 4 Assurance Review,” a key milestone in the ten-year accreditation cycle with its accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission.

“This is a significant attainment for us,” said Scott Herriott, MIU’s provost and chief academic officer. “It affirms that MIU continues to successfully meet all the criteria for institutional accreditation.”

The Assurance Review involved MIU submitting a detailed report describing how it met HLC’s formal Criteria for Accreditation. These criteria fall into five broad categories:

When HLC received the report, they sent it to a “peer review team” consisting of academic leaders at other HLC schools, typically deans and college vice-presidents. The team wrote its own 39-page analysis of the report, assessing the degree to which MIU met the criteria, and submitted it to HLC for a final review.

“The peer review team that evaluated our Assurance Review was very impressed with our report.”

— Scott Herriott

“The peer review team that evaluated our Assurance Review was very impressed with our report,” Herriottsaid. “These educators recognized MIU’s uniqueness and distinctiveness, and they valued it. You could tell they were selected for this team because they had that broadmindedness to be able to look at MIU with fresh eyes, and they were impressed with what they saw.”

Options for accreditation

The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) — headquartered in Chicago and one of a number of institutional accreditors in the United States — accredits the University of Iowa and Iowa’s private colleges as well as more than 1,100 colleges and universities around the country. 

HLC offers two options for accreditation. MIU is on HLC’s Open Pathway option, which is designed for more mature institutions. The other option is the Standard Pathway.

Both pathways follow a ten-year cycle, and both focus on quality assurance and institutional improvement, which the HLC monitors through comprehensive evaluations during the cycle.

But the Open Pathway is more flexible than the Standard Pathway. Where Standard Pathway institutions must undergo two days of on-site interviews and inspections for their mid-cycle review, Open Pathway institutions submit a report that is read by the HLC team and evaluated on its merits. 

Also in lieu of a mid-cycle site visit, Open Pathway schools undertake a Quality Initiative, an improvement project they choose according to their needs and aspirations. “The Quality Initiative is intended to allow institutions to take risks, aim high and learn from only partial success or even failure,” the HLC says. Institutions submit a proposal for their projects to HLC and then report on the outcomes at the end of the project period.

MIU was invited to join the Open Pathway in 2010. For its Quality Initiative during the 2010-2020 cycle, MIU chose assessment, the shorthand term in higher education for systematically improving student learning by objectively assessing how well students meet the specified learning outcomes of the courses and programs they take.

The 10-year Open Pathway accreditation cycle

Here’s what the 10-year cycle looks like, showing how HLC monitors its Open Pathway colleges and universities:

Dr. Herriott became an HLC consultant-evaluator in 1998 and has visited 35 schools as a member of HLC peer review teams since then. He has been the team leader for eight of these comprehensive visits.

“My 25 years of working for the Higher Learning Commission has been of incomparable value to MIU.” 

— Scott Herriott

“My 25 years of working for the Higher Learning Commission has been of incomparable value to MIU,” Dr. Herriott said. “Particularly as the team chair, who organizes the site visit and edits the final version of an evaluation report, I learned very well what is expected of all colleges and universities, and that has helped us write self-studies that give the HLC teams exactly the information they needed to write their own reports.”

“This experience has also exposed me to the challenges that the smaller colleges and universities are facing nationwide,” Dr. Herriott said. “MIU is very fortunate to have started to offer online degree programs several years before the pandemic. When we needed to grow our online programs, to adapt to the new reality of higher education, we already had the base of experience to build on.”

Writing the Assurance Review

Thank you to Scott Herriott for his help with this story.