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Pitt State models new path to accreditation

December 07, 2011 12:00AM

President Steve Scott speaks to an HLC workshop on campus Friday.

One of the roles of a pioneer is to show the way for others. That's what Pittsburg State University did for 13 other universities and community colleges on Nov. 11 when they hosted a workshop on their work to implement a new way of earning accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

Pittsburg State and Butler Community College, another HLC "pioneer," teamed up to offer the workshop in 316 Hughes Hall. Representatives from institutions in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas attended.

The HLC accredits about 1,100 degree-granting post-secondary educational institutions in the North Central region of the U.S. In 2010, PSU was one of a handful of institutions selected by the HLC to help lead the way in a very different approach to accreditation.

"The commission was looking for institutions that were mature and stable," said PSU Provost Lynette Olson. "It really is quite an honor," Olson said.

The new model that PSU is pioneering moves away from the traditional, exhaustive self-study and instead focuses on a self-improvement "pathway."

Jan Smith, a professor of Psychology and Counseling and special assistant to the provost for HLC accreditation, said the university is excited to be part of the new approach to accreditation.

"We liked where they were going and we wanted to be part of it," Smith said.

"The old approach uses a lot of resources to look backward and document what the institution has already accomplished," said PSU President Steve Scott. "One of the attractive things about this new model is that while it uses the data to document that the university has lived up to the standards set by the Higher Learning Commission, it then looks forward and directs the university's efforts toward doing meaningful work for the institution and its students."

PSU's Pathway zeros in on student learning. One of the university's goals in the new process is to assess the general education core, which includes writing, math and communication. A second goal is to begin assessment of co-curricular learning, which is generally defined as student learning that takes place outside the classroom.

"It is ultimately about student learning," Olson said. "As an institution, we do care deeply about student learning. This is a rare opportunity for PSU to be a leader in a process that not only helps us improve student learning, but also has the potential to radically change university accreditation across the region."

©2011 Pittsburg State University