For me, as for many people, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I see it as a time to be with family and friends and to give thanks for the small blessings that occur every day and for which we are all too often oblivious as we fret over the next lecture that needs to be prepared, the proposal with a looming deadline, or an interaction with a colleague that went badly. I hope that all of you were able to spend the holiday with friends and family and that you were able to enjoy and give thanks, with no distractions, for some of the simple pleasures of life.
Of course, the long weekend also gives us time, when the holiday is past, to begin to focus on the coming months and the important work that lies ahead. For NMSU, the most important work is preparation for our site visit from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), which is now less than a year away (November 13 and 14, 2017). It is hard for me to think about this visit without thinking about a question I am often asked; namely, what are the criteria for accreditation that most often trip up an institution? My answer has not changed for almost a decade – finances and learning assessment.
Among the most important assurances that accompany accreditation is the assurance that the institution of higher education has the financial resources to fulfill its mission and will be around to confer degrees on students who begin to study there. An institution that displays financial weakness, as measured by a composite financial index that is monitored annually by HLC, will be under close scrutiny by HLC and is in danger of losing accreditation should the institution not take steps to secure its financial future.
Another common area of concern for HLC is learning assessment and a commitment to continuous improvement in teaching and learning. One of the purposes of accreditation is to assure the public of the quality of the academic programs of an institution of higher education. Institutions demonstrate the quality of their programs through assessments of learning in all programs, undergraduate and graduate, and in all modalities, face-to-face and distance. Perfection is not expected. What is expected is a strong commitment to assessment, using the assessment to inform curricular changes, and further assessment of the impact of those changes on learning. In short, HLC expects the faculty of NMSU and other staff associated with instruction to demonstrate a culture of assessment and a commitment to continuous improvement in student learning.
I encourage everyone at NMSU to become familiar with the criteria for accreditation, which can be found here. While I have great confidence in the strength of NMSU and its outlook for the future, it is incumbent on all of us to prepare for the upcoming HLC visit by addressing any shortcomings that we see, and by telling the story of our university, and our transformative impact on the lives of our students and alumni, clearly and thoughtfully.
With all best wishes,