New Mexico State University

Frequently Asked Questions


What is the Higher Learning Commission (HLC)? What happened to the North Central Association (NCA)?
The Higher Learning Commission is the newly-renamed arm of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools that is responsible for the accreditation of colleges, universities and other institutions of higher learning. The full title used to be North Central Association Commission on Institutions of Higher Education. The new name is simpler and reflects the shift in higher education toward accountability for student learning.

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What is the NCA?
The North Central Association is one of six regional associations that accredit schools and colleges in the United States. The other five are the Middle States, New England, Northwest, Southern and Western Associations. Although most of the colleges and universities that the NCA Higher Learning Commission accredits are in the upper Midwest, its geographical range extends from West Virginia to Arizona.

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What is HLC accreditation? Why is it important?
While many academic agencies accredit particular programs of study (education, nursing, etc.), the Higher Learning Commission and other regional accrediting agencies are responsible for assuring that colleges and universities meet certain standards in terms of their missions, operations, and activities in teaching and student learning, discovery and promotion of knowledge, and service. Accreditation is an assurance to the public that an institution is properly prepared to do its job. On a more practical level, the HLC and the other accrediting agencies have been designated as the "gatekeepers" for federal funds in higher education. Unaccredited schools are not eligible for many kinds of federal support. For more information, see http://www.ncahigherlearningcommission.org/

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What does the HLC look for when it accredits colleges and universities?
Along with the change of name, the HLC has just adopted a new set of criteria for evaluation that went into effect in 2004-2005. The five new criteria areas, which will be in effect when NMSU comes up for re-accreditation in 2008, are

  • Mission and Integrity
  • Preparing for the Future
  • Student Learning and Effective Teaching
  • Acquisition, Discovery and Application of Knowledge
  • Engagement and Service

Components of these criteria and examples of evidence are available at the HLC web site.

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When will the HLC re-accreditation visit to NMSU take place?
The campus will prepare a self-study report, based on the new criteria, and submit it to the HLC in Spring 2008. An evaluation team from the HLC will be scheduled to come to campus in Spring 2008 as well.

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Why are we being visited for re-accreditation so soon? Didn't we just go through this?
The last full accreditation visit from the North Central Association was in 1998. Re-accreditation usually takes place in a ten-year cycle. In 2002, NMSU did have a Focused Visit from NCA evaluators to examine a few areas that received critical attention during the 1998 visit. That Focused Visit was a success. We also applied for accreditation for online programs in 2002, but we are now coming due for our next full accreditation visit.

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How is the NMSU preparing for the re-accreditation visit in 2008?
A Steering Committee has been formed to draft a campus self-study report and to help prepare the campus for the 2008 visit. You can visit the public accreditation web site at http://accreditation.nmsu.edu. For more information on how you can help the campus to prepare, contact the Committee Co-Chairs, Cynda Clary (cclary@nmsu.edu) and Jack Thomas (jthomas@nmsu.edu).

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Who will be on the HLC team?
The campus will be visited by a Peer Review Team of trained Consultant Evaluators. These are administrators, staff people, and faculty who have been accepted to the Peer Review Corps by the HLC. All will have gone through training for such visits and will be familiar with the new Criteria. President Martin will have the opportunity to review the team makeup suggested by the HLC and if appropriate, recommend changes.

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What will the HLC team do during the visit?
The team will already have received the complete campus Self-Study Report and will have had access to documents on the web or in electronic formats. During the visit, they will be seeking to validate the content of the report in terms of the strengths we have declared and data that support them, as well as concerns that need attention or issues that may confront us in the future. Team members will have meetings with key individuals and groups from across the campus and will have open meetings that are less structured. These activities will take place in Spring 2008, and the team will make an Exit Report to the campus on their preliminary findings.

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How will the findings be reported?
In both the initial draft and the later, full written report, the HLC team will write an Assurance section that addresses the Criteria and Core Components for accreditation. The team will note the Components that have been met, any that have not been, and any qualifications or concerns regarding them. In addition, the team will write an Advancement section in their role as consultants to offer advice to the campus about issues that might be of concern and ways in which NMSU might seek to approach or address those issues. The President should receive a draft of the written report within 6 weeks of the visit. He will have a chance to correct factual errors, and the final report will be submitted to the HLC no more than 9 weeks after the visit.

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What kinds of recommendations might the team make?
The team may simply recommend continued accreditation with no recommended follow-up activities before the next scheduled visit in 2018. If an institution is in serious trouble, the team could recommend probation or even withdrawal of accreditation. In between there is a range of possible actions, including required progress reports on how the institution is dealing with particular issues, monitoring reports dealing with specific issues that require careful and ongoing attention, and contingency reports dealing with changes taking place that affect the mission or nature of the institution. It is likely that some kind of follow-up activity will be recommended. (Under the new Criteria, HLC staff estimate that 85% of institutions will have some kind of activity required.) One new option that the HLC is currently discussing is establishing an Institute on Assessment that could give institutions a chance to confer and collaborate with each other on a voluntary basis.

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What will happen to the report when the visit is over?
NMSU as an institution will need to look carefully at the report, both for the validation of the things that we are doing well and for advice about ways in which we can improve what we are doing. Particular issues may be referred to appropriate committees and offices for examination and action. The campus will establish an ongoing body that will bring all of our accreditation, program review, assessment and planning activities together so that we can avoid duplication and work toward the future in processes that are mutually informed and collaborative.

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What do we hope to learn from this process?
The self-study process is a unique opportunity to examine the extent to which every unit, department, college, and campus meets the needs of our various constituent groups. In addition, the process of conducting a self study develops networks across units, departments, colleges, and campuses that can be used to more effectively achieve the overall NMSU mission in the future.

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Email us your comments or questions
  • Dr. Cynda Clary
  • MSC 3445, Box 30001
  • Las Cruces, NM 88003
  • (575)646-2307,  (575)646-5054 (fax)