This semester, on Oct. 10 and 11, reviewers will arrive on campus from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the nationally recognized major regional accreditor for Cedarville and other schools in the area, including Ohio State University.
These reviewers will examine the campus and make sure Cedarville meets the standards set by the HLC.
If the standards are met, Cedarville will be approved for reaccreditation in the 2016-2017 school year, which means degrees, transfer credits and other programs from the university will be continue to be federally recognized.
“It’s very important that the credits you earn are earned at an accredited university,” Sandra Yang, associate professor of music history and the chair of the reaccreditation committee. “It’s important for grad school, if you transfer a credit. It’s important for jobs and careers, that your transcript has been examined by an outside accreditor [been given] the stamp of approval.”
The HLC’s accreditation process involves more than the day and a half visit.
“It’s a very rigorous look at [the university], so it means something,” Yang said.
The Cedarville University personnel in the assessment and evaluation office have been working on the re-accreditation process ever since the institution was last accredited in the 2006-2007 school year.
The three personnel, including Tom Betcher, director of academic program development, Mandy Nolt, accreditation and assessment specialist, and Joy Williams, assistant to the director of academic program development, are the framework team for Cedarville’s accreditation process.
“We do on-going accreditation,” Betcher said. “It’s more behind the scenes. Just making sure the communications and the commissions are taking place: a support role.”
The accreditation personnel also gather assessment data that becomes important evidence for the university’s assurance argument, previously known as the self-study, which is Cedarville’s opportunity to examine itself and present that information to the accreditors.
“We do a lot of editing and gathering evidence together,” Nolt said.
In light of the upcoming accreditation, Cedarville has enlisted more university faculty and staff to help in with the argumentative process. Betcher said that part of the goal of the assessment and evaluation office was to take in the logistics of pulling this team together.
This team, formally known as the HLC Steering Committee, was formed two years ago in October with Thomas Cornman, former vice president for academics, and the approval of President Thomas White. Yang is the chair of the committee and works to oversee the process.
“I see my role as just meeting the deadlines,” she said.
The Steering Committee began with 15 core members, but has included other faculty and staff throughout the process.
“We added a lot more people so it was a total of 42 faculty and staff representing all areas of the campus because we wanted to have as broad based input [and involvement] as we could,” Yang said.
This large scope of input is important in this process because accreditation covers more than just academics. Cedarville has to meet five different areas of criteria concerning its mission, integrity, quality of teaching, evaluation of teaching and institutional effectiveness.
“We have a lot to answer to in those five big areas,” Yang said.
The Steering Committee has several subcommittees, each of which look at portions of HLC’s five criteria.
These subcommittees have each worked on writing part of the assurance argument, a 35,000-word document describing the results of the past two years’ examination of the university.
“That’s really not that [many words] when you’re talking about explaining your university,” Yang said.
In previous years, Cedarville has had to publish its assurance argument in a self-study report book similar in size to our student catalog, but now the HLC requires the argument to be submitted via an online template.
“It’s on their system, so we’re just basically filling in their template,” Yang said. “The template is just a big empty box, and so we’ve written our argument in each of the areas they’ve asked us to.”
Cedarville’s assurance argument’s required lockdown date was Sept. 12
“From that time four reviewers will be reading the argument, and then they’ll have a set of questions,” Yang said.
The Steering Committee wants to give the reviewers as much time as possible to become familiar with the university’s assurance arguments before they arrive on campus in October.
We realized we have some challenges and needs and shortages, and this is our plan to make us better.
Associate Professor of Music History, Cedarville University
The reviewers will also examine the answers of a student survey sent out last semester.
“They may have some more questions for students when they come to campus,” Yang said.
Cedarville needs students to be willing to help out with the accreditation process, especially as the reviewers come to campus.
“Pay attention,” Yang said. “If you get an email saying ‘Hey, do you have time to participate in a student meeting with the HLC reviewers?’ say ‘Yes,’ and go to that meeting.”
Input from every aspect of campus is important, because ultimately, the accreditation examination process is meant to show the faculty and staff of Cedarville where the campus as a whole can improve.
“We realized we have some challenges and needs and shortages, and this is our plan to make us better,” Yang said.
The committee has already begun making changes based on the discovered shortages.
One of the new programs the university is creating because of the evaluation process is a system for student complaints.
“We realized you might not know where you would go when you want to issue a complaint. [Cedarville is creating] one place where all the students would know you could go push a button and file a complaint about anything, and then it would go to the appropriate people,” Yang said.
Other changes on campus connected to the accreditation process include the new aquafiers installed in the lake prior to the 2015-2016 school year and the new ventilators in the dining hall to eliminate the Chuck’s smell.
Cedarville’s changes point back to their goal in keeping the university up to the highest standards, and accreditation shows the faculty and staff how to better meet those standards.
Yang said, “The bottom line is, [accreditation is] a self-examination [that] makes us better, and making us better will make [the services we offer you as a student] better.”
This self-examination has come a long way, but Yang is confident for the final steps of the process.
“We’re ready,” she said.
Rebekah Erway is a junior English major and reporter for Cedars. She is a diehard Disney, Veggietales, and Lord of the Rings fan and enjoys speaking in a British accent.