In this blog post of the Accreditation Series, I will discuss the basic steps to becoming accredited with the Higher Learning Commission or HLC in short. I will touch upon the eligibility process and some criteria, as well as other relevant elements.
And if you happen to have accreditation-specific questions as you read this piece, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me by email or phone!
The Higher Learning Commission is one of the six regional accreditors in the U.S. It’s governed by a Board of Trustees, with Dr. Barbara Gellman-Danley as the current president.
HLC’s Accreditation Process
Degree-granting institutions in the U.S. may be eligible to seek accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission. HLC generally offers two ways to achieve accreditation: through the Accelerated Process for Initial Accreditation, and the Eligibility Process and Candidacy.
Eligibility Process and Candidacy
When a college or university seeks accreditation through this route, they must complete all of the steps within the strict time frames prescribed by the HLC. Just as with other accrediting agencies, you have to submit the right documentation and receive a positive decision before starting the next step of the process.
Institutions that participate in the Eligibility Process won’t have any status with the HLC until they’re awarded Candidacy status.
Steps of The Eligibility Process
Step 1: Submitting An Application
The Eligibility Process is started when your institution submits an application along with the requested Preliminary Evidence. HLC will then assess the application to ensure it’s complete. If not, the staff may require you to submit additional materials.
The HLC will typically review your application and respond with a decision within one month from submission. Typically, all additional requested documentation is due within a month from the day of request.
Step 2: Participating in the Eligibility Interview
The next step would involve your institution’s participation in an Eligibility Interview hosted by the HLC staff. Some additional documents might be requested before this.
You will receive a Post-Interview Letter sometime after your interview is complete. The letter will provide HLC’s decision on whether your college or university can proceed with the next step.
Step 3: Preparing Your Letter of Intent To Submit Eligibility Filing
Once you’re approved to proceed with the Eligibility Process, your institution will have to submit a Letter of Intent to Submit Eligibility Filing. You will have two years from the date of your Post-Interview Letter to submit this.
Step 4: Eligibility Filing
For the Eligibility Filing, your institution must submit two documents:
- Compliance with Eligibility Requirements Form
- Institutional Data Form
The HLC staff will further assess your filing for completeness. In case if anything’s missing, they may require additional information that you will have to promptly submit within a given timeframe.
Once your Eligibility Filing is complete, peer reviewers will gather to evaluate the evidence provided by your institution. At this stage, there will be no in-person visits or interviews between your college or university and the peer reviewers. Bear in mind that peer reviewers might also request additional information from you if needed.
This step ends with the Letter on Eligibility that will include HLC’s decision on whether your institution may proceed to prepare for a comprehensive assessment for Candidacy.
Make note of this: your Eligibility Filing must be submitted within 365 days from the date of receipt of the Letter of Intent to Submit Eligibility Filing. The peer review panel will take about a month to evaluable your Filing and assess your institution’s ability to continue this process. If missing materials are requested - they will be due in a month from the date of the request.
What are The HLC Eligibility Criteria?
As your institution participates in the Eligibility Process, you will be asked to present initial evidence that shows you’re meeting the requirements before HLC schedules your pre-application interview.
Here are some of the eligibility criteria that an institution must meet. You can see the full list on HLC’s website here.
- Legal Status: your institution must be authorized in each state where it operates to offer academic programs, award degrees, and conduct other activities as a college or university.
- Governing Board: your institution must have an independent governing board that can establish and review policies to govern your college or university.
- Financial Capacity: your institution must have a financial base to be able to support and sustain your operations. You must be hence able to demonstrate appropriate debt levels and a record of responsible fiscal management.
- Educational Programs: your institution must have educational programs that are deemed appropriate for a post-secondary degree-granting college or university.
- Mission Statement: your institution must have an appropriate mission statement approved by your governing board that is appropriate for a degree-granting postsecondary institution.
- Stability: your institution must be able to demonstrate a history of stable and consistent operations and control during the two years preceding the application process.
HLC accreditation might seem to be an overwhelming journey at a first glance, but I assure you that this type of accreditation is in fact the most straightforward of many other processes out there.
Here are some of the things to help you prepare:
- Send any of your questions to HLC to make sure you’re not missing any documentation as you prepare to start your application process
- Try to attend at least one of the many events hosted by HLC. Check out the next event here
- It’s a good idea to volunteer as a peer reviewer to gain some knowledge and experience. Check out this link
- Stay up to date with HLC’s publications and news to ensure you’re aware of any changed policies and procedures
Get in touch with me if you need help to open your university or college in the USA. My team and I have been establishing universities for years, and we would love to help you, too.