Basics of Faculty Credentialing

To some it is becoming a cringe-worthy term, “credentialing”, to others it is a relatively standard practice that many institutions have been practicing since they opened their doors. Credentialing is simply the qualification process of faculty to teach certain courses. Institutions that are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) must be compliant to new guidelines by September 1, 2017; a race to the finish line has ensued. HLCs guidelines (the term HLC uses to describe the narratives associated with Core Components and Assumed Practices) are simply that, guidelines. They represent guidance that is given to each of its member institutions; guidance that is then subject to policy and procedures formulated by faculty governance. So, while the HLC guidelines might guide an institution into one way of credentialing faculty, the faculty body and/or the standards of a programmatic accreditor may decide on a stricter set of provisions.

For example, parts of HLC’s guidelines pursuant to Core Component 3.C. and subject to Assumed Practice B.2. say: 

  1. A faculty member must possess a degree higher than the one they are teaching in, and

  2. 18 graduate credits in the discipline they are teaching in, and/or

  3. “Tested experience” in the area of discipline. Tested experience basically allows an institution to qualify faculty based on experience outside of the classroom, such as significant work history, industry certifications, portfolios, etc.

Even so, the university faculty and/or the programmatic accreditor might determine that: 

  1. A faculty member must possess a degree higher than the one they are teaching in, and

  2. 18 graduate credits in the discipline they are teaching in, plus 5 years of working experience in the discipline, and/or

  3. A graduate degree in another field, plus a current certification in the discipline.

HLC’s guidelines give flexibility to the institution and to programmatic accreditors to set standards that are appropriate to specific disciplines. This may seem frustrating to some faculty that teach in multiple universities; that they could conceivably be qualified to teach Math at one university and not another, but it is also appropriate and fair to give this freedom to the discipline and to its faculty.

This all being said, if you are now not qualified to teach a course that you have been teaching for some time, you have an opportunity to remedy the situation through taking new coursework and/or obtaining a certification (if the example listed above applies to that institution). If your institution allows for “tested experience”, the policy will be accompanied by a clear procedure for the documentation of this experience and you can begin collection immediately as well.

Credentialing will typically involve you supplying your official transcripts and documentation of any other experience the institutional policies allow. Depending on the institution, you may be involved in the process by identifying the coursework from your transcripts that corresponds to the course you believe you are qualified for, or the administrative team will do this work for you. It may take several weeks or months to complete the process, depending on when the institution started credentialing new faculty. Some institutions need to credential hundreds of faculty by September 1, 2017, in addition to their regular duties–some only a handful. It is appropriate to ask about the timeline and how the final results will be communicated to you. Most institutions will complete their credentialing processes by early Summer so that they can make appropriate and compliant teaching assignments for their Fall terms—and to give them time to recruit new faculty, if needed.

It can be an emotional process for faculty who have been teaching a course for many years that they now find they are “unqualified” for. In all honesty, the application of these guidelines is not a value statement like this; it is simply that you are not able to teach this course under the current guidelines and with this accreditor. It can also be an emotional process for Chairs and Deans as they take on the additional duties of credentialing and the sometimes difficult process of communicating changes to their trusted and valued faculty. Some Chairs and Deans are better communicators than others—some handle conflict better than others—but all will agree that this is a difficult, but necessary process that we all have to go through. As with most rules, we do not always have to agree with them, but we are compelled to follow them if a governing body insists—this is one of those times. Continue your great work and remember this is not about you it is about compliance.

See Part 2 of this series!

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Bettyjo Bouchey MBA, EdD

Bettyjo Bouchey MBA, EdD Bettyjo Bouchey is an Associate Dean & Associate Professor, College of Professional Studies and Advancement Director of Online Academics

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