In a letter from the Higher Learning Commission dated Feb. 12, 2016, the Institutional Actions Council of the Higher Learning Commission informed President Cris Valdez of formal action taken at its meeting on Feb. 9, 2016, stating “IAC continued the accreditation of Central Wyoming College with the next Reaffirmation of Accreditation in 2025-26.”
CWC recently went through an accreditation visit Oct. 5-6. The HLC conducts these accreditations to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality. The importance of these visits is not only for the college as a checks and balances on the functionality of the institute but for students who need federal student aid from the U.S Department of Education; the institute must be a nationally recognized accredited institute for those students to receive aid.
“Accreditation visits depends on the track that the college is on,” said Chontelle Gray, professor of theater. “CWC was on the open pathway track which didn’t require any follow up visits for ten years.”
Gray who has been through two accreditation processes at CWC, was the leader for the accreditation committee and said the process has changed a lot in the last ten years. A report from the college was required for the open pathway track which was based on the HLC’s five criterion. Those five criterions are: mission, integrity, teaching and learning: quality, resources and support, teaching and learning: evaluation and improvement, and resources, planning and institutional effectiveness. This report had a word limit and required the college to provide fact based information which didn’t allow the college to boast on the great programs it offers or resources it has, Gray said.
After the report, which took more than year to complete and file, a team of peer reviewers, who look at the report, conducted a site visit. The site visit gives the reviewers an opportunity to see the college and its function but also asks questions directly to faculty, staff and students.
“We answer those questions and supply them with evidence,” Gray said. “An accreditation helps legitimize the college and the degrees that students are receiving. Basically it ensures that we are not running a diploma mill and that we are doing what we say we are doing.”
The CWC Board of Trustees has been receiving updates on sources gathered to address each criterion from leader of the accreditation committee, Chontelle Gray.
“We are approved for re-accreditation which is good for another ten years but we need to do a few more reports,” Gray said.
In conjunction with the action to continue accreditation, IAC required an interim report on federal compliance credit hour policy and verification and articulation agreements, and a Year 4 Assurance Review that will include an emphasis on assessment.
This compliance report for the credit hour policy and verification and articulation agreement is due April 7.
“Staff from across campus, led by theater professor Chontelle Gray, spent months collecting evidence, writing arguments, and preparing for this once-every-ten year visit,” said Louisa Hunker, director of institutional effectiveness. “The process was long but incredibly valuable; it gave us a chance to identify strengths. We have a lot to be proud of! And areas for improvement across every area of CWC.”
“I think the process is an important exercise for an institution to go through, it’s not just for the outside entities to look at and judge,” Gray said. “It gives us a chance to look and see if we are doing the things we need to be doing. It is important and makes us look at areas that we wouldn’t look at otherwise.”
Accreditation also helps a college stay up-to-date with things that a college may not be aware of, Gray said. CWC does some things that are amazing and the visit also brought some things to light that this institute needs to work on.
“I discovered a lot about CWC through the HLC process. I didn’t realize how much we have going at the college; we are a complex institution. We do a lot of good things at CWC, but we also discovered areas of weakness. We have an opportunity to take this information and improve what we do,” Gray said.