The HLC’s Measure for “Qualified Faculty” Is About to Change: But Is It Better?

The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) is a corporation with roots back to 1895. It is one of the six regional accrediting institutions. The HLC accredits institutions that grant degrees in the North Central region. The states covered in the HLC include: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. (HLC, 2016)

There is often a misunderstanding about whether regional accrediting bodies and the Department of Education work hand in hand. The regional Commissions maintain a relationship with the federal government and the Department of Education. HLC is considered a “gatekeeper agency” and therefore has specific responsibilities defined by the USDE regarding accreditation.

Recently many faculty members who work for institutions in these regions have been receiving emails and phone calls about the “re-credentialing” process. Beginning on September 1, 2017, faculty credentialing to teach courses will be performed differently, with more emphasis on specific graduate degrees and less emphasis on specializations and experience. The full report can be read here:

The pending changes actually began in June of 2015. Revisions will focus not just on full time professors, but full-time, part-time faculty, adjuncts, temporary and non-tenured track faculty members. For institutions to “count” tested or real world experience, institutions must have a specific policy on file reviewed through faculty governance and well documented in all human resources and academic files. Many institutions do not have a formal process in place today, and are preparing by moving faculty into area they specifically earned their degree in. For example, if you earned a PhD in Leadership and you are teaching Operations Management, you may find that assignment will change to focus specifically on Leadership or you may be asked to fully justify why you are qualified to teach Operations Management.

No doubt that students deserve qualified faculty to teach their courses. As of 2014, HLC guidelines for determining qualified faculty were: completed a program of study in the discipline or subfield they will teach in or develop curriculum, with coursework at least one level above that being taught. Credentials were the primary factor but other factors can be considered in addition to earning diplomas. However, would we assume someone serving in the role of Chief Marketing Officer for ten years with say a terminal degree in project management is unqualified to teach marketing courses? Likely students will learn more from a professor doing the work and staying current on what issues are problematic in the real world than from a few-year-old textbook and someone who has only read about or studied the issues. Many programs used to proudly state that their professors have real world experience, but not so much anymore. It’s become taboo; associated with many of the for-profit’s that have tarnished the reputation of the industry by practicing unethical business and education.

So how can you prepare? Look at the institutions you work for and determine which courses you’re best suited to specific to your degree. Have that information available if you’re asked to provide it. Thoroughly document your degrees and relevant experience both in your CV and in the form you may get from your college asking for information. Look for schools not in the regions specified above. If you are concerned about potential changes, as your dean beforehand, so you have time to make changes if it means lost income or a shift in income. Most administrators I know aren’t happy about this. It is time consuming, and colleges have already done a good job instructing students with professors who are often teaching courses for many years and have a great reputation for quality. Those same professors may suddenly find the course they have been teaching for a decade reassigned. Don’t be left behind and not have anything to be reassigned to.

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