Baker University undergoes accreditation verification during upcoming HLC visit


Emma Howard

President Dr. Lynne Murray introduces Ramie Nation, the University Registrar, during the presentation in preparation for the HLC Accreditation Reaffirmation process.

Every 10 years, colleges and universities that wish to be accredited must go through a rigorous review process that assesses the quality of the institution. As part of the Standard Pathway for accreditation, Baker University participates in a 10-year reaffirmation cycle which is up for review this academic year. Since its last accreditation during the 2011-2012 academic year, Baker will look to maintain its status.

Though accreditation is technically a voluntary process, it is necessary for colleges and universities to exist. Accreditation is important for ensuring that the university maintains a high-quality educational standard and it is necessary for students to achieve federal aid eligibility. Employers and other universities often look to the institution’s accreditation status when reviewing degree validity and accepting transfer credits.

Baker receives its accreditation status from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and has maintained continuous accreditation since 1913.

According to the HLC website, “the HLC is a regional accreditation agency” that “validates the quality of an institution as a whole and evaluates multiple aspects of an institution, including its academic offerings, governance and administration, mission, finances and resources.”

Ramie Nation, University Registrar and Advisor to the President for Accreditation has played a significant role in preparing Baker for its upcoming HLC visit and worked closely with President Dr. Lynne Murray throughout this process. 

Nation has extensive knowledge of the accreditation process as she served as the Registrar at three different institutions prior to Baker. Nation also served as the Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs at St. Gregory’s University during their HLC visit, solidifying her knowledge of the reaffirmation process.

“We’ve done significant work up to this point to prepare for the visit, so we are confident things will go well,” Nation said.

Baker University’s HLC site visit for the 10-year reaffirmation of accreditation will occur from Nov. 15 to Nov. 17. The visit to the Baldwin City campus will take place on Nov. 15 and Nov. 16, while the visit to the Overland Park SPGS campus will take place on Nov. 17. 

During the visit, the HLC Peer Review Team will evaluate the university based on five main criteria. The Peer Review Team consists of six members from various positions at other universities and colleges. Two members, Peer Review Team Chair Dr. Larry Grieshaber and Dr. Wilson Richard Kuhn, will be on campus for the in-person visit. The remaining four members will join the visit virtually via Zoom. 

Open forums and drop-in sessions during the two visit days on the Baldwin City campus are open to all staff, faculty and students. Masks are required for all in-person attendees. The full schedule, including Zoom links, can be found here.

“We would love to have as much student participation as possible in the open forum sessions,” Nation said. “Our peer reviewers will ask questions of the groups over topics related to each criterion. They will be very interested in gaining the student perspective.”

The preparation leading up to the visit has required extensive effort.

Prior to the upcoming visit, Baker faculty, staff and administration created the 2021-2022 Assurance Argument, which consists of the university’s response to the HLC’s Five Criterion as well as including a Federal Compliance Statement and a COVID-19 Institutional Response Report.

The Five Criterion assess the overall quality of the university:

-Criterion 1: Mission: The institution’s mission is clear and articulated publicly; it guides the institution’s operations.

-Criterion 2: Integrity: Ethical and Responsible Conduct – The institution acts with integrity; its conduct is ethical and responsible.

-Criterion 3: Teaching and Learning: Quality, Resources and Support – The institution provides quality education, wherever and however its offerings are delivered.

-Criterion 4: Teaching and Learning: Evaluation and Improvement – The institution demonstrates responsibility for the quality of its educational programs, learning environments and support services, and it evaluates their effectiveness for student learning through processes designed to promote continuous improvement.

-Criterion 5: Institutional Effectiveness, Resources and Planning – The institution’s resources, structures, processes and planning are sufficient to fulfill its mission, improve the quality of its educational offerings and respond to future challenges and opportunities.

In the Assurance Argument, Baker introduces its Strategic Plan: Baker Strong 2024. The plan, originally “Baker Strong 2022,” launched in the summer of 2018 to move the university from “surviving to thriving” as denoted on page 83. Due to COVID-19, the timeline was extended from 2022 to 2024 to execute three strategic goals, including Exceptional Student Experience, Innovative and Relevant Programs and Financial Stability and Growth.

As required by the HLC, each statement made in the 88-page Assurance Argument has a supporting document to verify it as factual.

The Assurance Argument was submitted to the Peer Review Team on Oct. 18. It is available for review to the Board of Trustees members on the Moodle site, to faculty and staff on the Intranet site and to students in all Academic Deans’ offices. 

After the visit, the Peer Review Team’s first draft of its accreditation report is due to the HLC on Nov. 29. Baker will have the opportunity to review any recommendations and “verify that they are supported by the team’s cited evidence.” A second draft of the report will then be submitted to Baker solely for correcting factual errors.

The final report will then go to the HLC Institutional Action Council (IAC) to develop an action plan based on recommendations. Baker can respond, refute or demonstrate how it plans on addressing any concerns that arise from the recommendations.

Baker is taking advantage of the opportunity to address current university issues and is looking to renew its accreditation by the HLC this year.

As outlined under the Criterion 5 summary regarding the institution’s ability to respond to future challenges and opportunities, the university’s two main focus areas are enrollment decline and the annual operating budget deficit.

“This process has been useful in helping us refocus our long-term goals after disruptions since the spring of 2020 caused by the pandemic,” President Murray stated in the introduction of the Assurance Argument.