Frequently Asked Questions
Earlham’s resource for the most common accreditation questions.
Commonly asked questions about Accreditation
What is Accreditation & why does it matter?
Accreditation signals to the public that the institution is able to meet its educational mission and that it is meeting standards for financial stability, faculty qualifications, and student outcomes.
Accreditation allows eligible students to use federal aid (such as Pell grants) at the institution. Accreditation also facilitates the transfer of credits between institutions, which is important if students want to transfer or pursue additional education after graduation. Further, employers expect degrees from accredited institutions.
What is the Higher Learning Commission (HLC)?
HLC is our accreditor, approved by the Department of Education. HLC is responsible for assuring that member institutions are meeting the federal and public expectations about educational quality and financial stability. It is also responsible for assuring that institutions are complying with federal regulations and legislation, particularly as related to Title IV funds, which includes federal student aid.
What does HLC look for when accrediting institutions?
HLC has five main criteria for accreditation, each with many sub-criteria. The five main areas are:
- Integrity: Ethical & Responsible Conduct
- Teaching & Learning: Quality, Resources, & Support
- Teaching & Learning: Evaluation & Improvement
- Institutional Effectiveness, Resources, & Planning
In addition, HLC has a list of “assumed practices” that they expect institutions to be in compliance with at all times. Assumed practices are “(1) generally matters to be determined as facts, rather than matters requiring professional judgment and (2) not expected to vary by institutional mission or context.”
HLC also conducts federal compliance reviews, which assure that institutions are in compliance with federal regulations and legislation for institutions of higher education.
Is Earlham already accredited?
Yes, Earlham has been accredited since 1915.
When is Earlham’s next re-accreditation visit?
Although the specific day is not set until 4-6 months prior to the visit, Earlham is currently scheduled for a visit in early March 2024.
What is the process to prepare for the re-accreditation visit?
As an institution, we will engage in a process of self-study (also known as an Assurance Argument), led by the Reaccreditation Steering Committee and supported by the Committee on Assessment & Accreditation. Each criterion for reaccreditation will have a sub-committee gathering evidence that Earlham is meeting expectations for the given criterion. Members of subcommittees will be meeting with various groups across campus during this year. In Summer 2023, members of the Steering Committee will draft our self-study document, finalize it during Fall 2023, and submit it to HLC in early 2024. View the accreditation timeline.
Two to four months before the visit, a student opinion survey developed by HLC will be administered.
Does the re-accreditation process affect the entire college, including its graduate programs?
HLC accreditation reviews the entire college, including the undergraduate program, Graduate Programs in Education (GPE), and the Earlham School of Religion (ESR). Both graduate programs are also accredited by specialized accrediting agencies.
GPE is accredited by the state of Indiana. ESR is accredited by the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States & Canada, which most recently reaffirmed ESR’s accreditation in 2016.
What will happen during the visit?
HLC has a corps of peer reviewers, who are professors and administrators at other accredited institutions of higher learning. A team of these reviewers will read our institutional self-study and results of the student survey in preparation for their visit. During the visit, they will meet with members of the faculty, staff, student body, and administration to confirm and explore the information contained in the self-study.
What are possible outcomes from the HLC visit?
Following the re-accreditation visit, the review team will write a letter indicating their conclusion about whether Earlham meets the criteria necessary for re-accreditation. Earlham will receive this report within 4-6 weeks following the visit. The institution will have an opportunity to respond to this letter within 14 days.
The possible outcomes include:
Reaffirmation of accreditation:
- Reaffirmation of accreditation. In this case, Earlham would undergo a comprehensive evaluation in Year 4 & Year 10, likely in 2027-2028 and 2033-2034.
- Reaffirmation of accreditation with monitoring. In this case, Earlham would be asked to submit progress reports and perhaps receive a Focused Visit from a peer review team to address any criteria that were noted as areas of concern. HLC provides data about how many institutions are identified as having issues with criteria (meeting with concerns or not meeting). Between 2017 & 2021, the percentage of institutions having identified concerns ranged from 0% for Criterion 1 (Mission) in 2020 to 51% for Criterion 4 (Teaching & Learning: Evaluation & Improvement) in 2017.
There are also more severe sanctions and outcomes that can occur, including being placed on Notice, Probation, or being issued a Show-Cause Order. Sanctions are public and institutions are required to notify relevant constituencies of the sanction, including Board members, faculty, staff, current students, and prospective students. The institution remains accredited during this period. The most severe sanction would be removal of an institution’s accreditation.
What do we hope to learn from the re-accreditation process?
Reaccreditation is a time for the institution to take stock of its strengths and weaknesses. The process of the self-study and re-accreditation can help Earlham identify areas that need attention and strengthen the areas in which we excel.
How can I be involved and help prepare for a successful visit?
Review the criteria for accreditation. Engage with members of Reaccreditation Subcommittees when they visit committees (including Earlham Student Government) and divisions and attend an open forum. After reviewing the criteria, share ideas for evidence demonstrating that Earlham meets criteria and other thoughts with [email protected]