North Central Association of Colleges and Schools Higher Learning Commission (NCA-HLC)
The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (often referred to as the NCA) is one of six accrediting agencies in the United States. The NCA offers peer-based evaluation and accreditation for education institutions in the following 19 states: Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The NCA also accredits institutions within the Navajo Nation, located in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. The NCA is recognized by the US Department of Education (DOE) and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
Of the six regional accreditors in the United States, the NCA accredits the most schools. Roughly 10,000 institutions are accredited by the NCA, including more than 1,000 universities, colleges, and vocational-technical schools.
Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
The NCA is subdivided into two distinct commissions: the commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA CASI) and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The NCA CASI evaluates and accredits K-12 schools, as well as some college prep and adult-vocational institutions which do not grant degrees. The HLC evaluates and accredits universities, colleges, and vocational schools which grant degrees.
Institutions who wish to become accredited by the HLC must first apply for candidacy. Candidacy status, once granted, must be maintained by the institution for at least two years, although a four-year period is more common. During these years of candidacy, the institution must fulfill all requirements for eligibility, and provide a detailed report to HLC explaining the degree to which they meet the Criteria for Accreditation, as well as a specific plan to meet all remaining Criteria for Accreditation. HLC representatives make regular evaluations as the institution progresses toward accredited status.
The Criteria for Accreditation
The HLC evaluates institutions based on five criterions, collectively known as the Criteria for Accreditation. These five criterions are:
- Criterion 1: Mission and Integrity. The HLC investigates an institution and determines whether it has an adequate structure in place to achieve its goals. The institution is required to put a mission statement in writing and make it available to its students and to the public. The institution must recognize the diversity of its student body, and must demonstrate effective leadership in its administration and organization.
- Criterion 2: Preparing for the Future. The institution must be committed to continual improvement, and must provide the HLC with a detailed plan of how it is preparing for the future. This plan must include how the institution intends to fulfill its mission statement, respond to future opportunities and challenges, and improve the quality of its educational programs.
- Criterion 3: Student Learning and Effective Teaching. The institution must demonstrate to the HLC that its programs are actually educating the students; that is, they must provide specific evidence regarding students' progress. The institution must therefore draw out clearly defined goals for each program by which student progress can be measured.
- Criterion 4: Acquisition, Discovery, and Application of Knowledge. The institution must exhibit, through its faculty, students, and administration, a life-long passion for learning.
- Criterion 5: Engagement and Service. The institution must show itself to be a valuable participant in the educational community, by actively engaging with and responding to its various constituencies. The institution must also provide the HLC with specific evidence that the services it offers are valued by the community.