Missouri Western is undergoing the latest in a cycle of events designed to achieve re-affirmation of the university’s accreditation.
On Oct. 29-31, Western welcomed a two-person evaluation team sent by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools to perform a quality checkup visit. Within the next four to six weeks, the team will develop a report of its findings and is expected to present it to Western early next year.
The purpose of this visit was for the Commission to get a clear look at the ways Western accomplishes its mission to present students with opportunities to be successful in and beyond the classroom before deciding on re-affirmation of accreditation.
Cindy Heider, assistant vice president for academic and student affairs, notes that Western’s strategic planning and student recruitment, among other practices, left a big impression on the evaluation team.
“The important thing was that we heard from our visiting team that there were some real wows going on at Missouri Western,” Heider said. “[It was suggested that our] practices should be both shared and disseminated at a higher learning commission conference or with our regional colleagues throughout the area.”
During the visit, the evaluation team met with and interviewed a number of students, faculty, staff, and administration members such as President Robert A. Vartabedian, Student Government Association President Harold Callaway and Vice President of University Advancement Dan Nicoson.
Brenda Blessing, professor and chair of the health, physical education and recreation department and president of the faculty senate, was one of many faculty members involved in the checkup visit. Blessing is quick to mention the importance of this visit for Western and considers it a validation of what the university is already doing.
“It’s important to show where we are and where we want to go,” Blessing said. “It’s a win-win situation.”
The visit, although vital, is merely one element of the Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP), an alternative accreditation process. Unlike the traditional Program to Evaluate and Advance Quality, or PEAQ, which involves a 10-year accreditation cycle, AQIP is a seven-year accreditation process that focuses on continuous improvement by requiring institutions to meet accreditation expectations by identifying action projects and developing a systems portfolio, a comprehensive overview of how the institution achieves its missions and objectives.
According to Jeanie Crain, special assistant to the president and liaison to AQIP, Western has been an accredited university since 1919, but only started using the alternative process in 2003 due to the focus on continuous improvement.
“We have successfully integrated the AQIP cycle into our strategic planning,” Crain said. “Essentially, I would say AQIP is very closely aligned to what we were already doing.”
Heider considers the constant revision and improvement of the university to be similar to writing a school paper.
“If you put off working on it, then you only got a certain period of time to get something done and it may not be the quality you wanted…,” Heider said. “In a sense, that’s what the AQIP process asks us to do; to continually look at our services and our programs and make sure they’re operating at the highest level as they can all the time.”
Heider goes on to explain that, while this may appear more important to the university than the students from afar, the accreditation has a big effect on how students can pay for college.
“Without that regional accreditation, we would not be able to provide financial aid to students,” Heider said. “We take it very seriously, [because] we want to preserve their option for financial aid.”
Heider and Crain concur that the visit will go down in the university’s illustrious history as a significant moment and a validation of the hard work Missouri Western has put forth.
“We don’t always take the time to applaud the hard work and the very good work that we’re doing, so it was a validation of [the] work here,” Heider said.