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Where we are and where we’re going

As you know, the Higher Learning Commission, our regional accrediting agency, placed Western Dakota Tech on Probation in February 2016. We were placed on probation because HLC decided we were not in compliance with its requirements in three areas – assessment of student learning, use of persistence and completion rates, and institutional effectiveness.         

That’s the bad news. The good news is we have been making, and continue to make, improvements in all three areas. Our progress has been so significant I have complete confidence we will be off probation as soon as possible.

We submitted a report May 31 to show all the progress we made during 2015-2016 related to the two Assumed Practices HLC determined we were not in compliance with. That report detailed all the assessment work and program reviews, our strategic planning efforts, and how we were using data to inform decisions. It was a strong, compelling report.

HLC responded in a positive way. The overall message from them was, “Your efforts are a good start, but you can’t stop. Keep going and keep doing the work you have begun.” We will do exactly that, and we will show the results in the March 1, 2017, progress report that will be similar to the report we submitted this past May and in the Assurance Argument due next July.

That Assurance Argument will be given to a team of peer reviewers chosen by HLC who will visit campus in early September 2017. The team will spend several days on campus talking to us about all the criteria for accreditation, with a special focus on the areas where we were deemed to be out of compliance. 

The team will render its opinion around October 2017, and we will have a chance to respond. The team’s final report will go to the HLC Board of Trustees in January 2018, and the Board will decide if we can come off probation.

As you know, probation is serious, and we cannot overstate how important it is for the sanction to be removed. And while I am confident that will occur, it is not a guarantee. And the consequences of the Board’s alternatives, up to and including removing accreditation, would be devastating. However, I don’t see that happening because we have control over the outcome. By doing the work that needs to be done and doing it well, I have no doubt we will achieve the result we want.

That makes this year critically important. We will continue making improvements across campus to ensure compliance with all HLC requirements. We also will spend time this year making sure policies, procedures, and practices are clear and understood by everyone on campus. That will help all of us do our jobs better, and it will be important for us to be able to speak to those items when the HLC visit team is here.

We also will learn about these things through the creation of the Assurance Argument. As you know, every faculty and staff member has been assigned to work on a criteria committee. We also have shared the Criteria for Accreditation and a link to a video that discusses them. As Dr. Bolman stated during inservice, it is imperative each of us has a working knowledge of the Criteria and expert knowledge of the criteria that relate directly to our work.

I will add one item to that list. It is important for you think about how your work helps us achieve compliance with the Criteria. Understanding that helps us see the importance of our daily efforts and creates well-informed answers to questions about that topic when the HLC team is here. It also directly aligns with advice from our HLC liaison who visited campus in May.

That’s what our year ahead looks like. It will challenge us, I am sure, but I know we are up to it.

There is one final thing to tell you. I cannot tell you how much the Leadership Team appreciates all the work you have done during the past year. We know the program and unit reviews, assessment work, planning efforts, meetings, and more have taxed you and created work you did not see coming. We’ve also seen tremendous teamwork that have made all recent changes and improvements across campus possible. Please know those efforts will be the reason—this is an important point—those efforts will be the reason we are taken off Probation as soon as possible. This year will be challenging, too, because we have to continue all those efforts and incorporate new improvements, but we know our campus can accomplish anything if we stick together and approach these challenges as opportunities to become an even better and stronger college.

Please talk to your Criteria Committee chair or me if you have any questions about accreditation, probation, or the process we are following.

Thanks, and have a great semester.

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