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Using HLC Criteria for Institutional Strategic Planning: A Success Story. Dr. Terry B. Smith Interim President Dr. Steve Wiegenstein Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Dean for Graduate Studies Misty Bush Director of Institutional Compliance . Columbia College.

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using hlc criteria for institutional strategic planning a success story

Using HLC Criteria for Institutional Strategic Planning: A Success Story

Dr. Terry B. Smith

Interim President

Dr. Steve Wiegenstein

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Dean for Graduate Studies

Misty Bush

Director of Institutional Compliance

columbia college
Columbia College
  • Columbia College is complex, diverse, 163-year old private liberal arts and sciences institution that offers a residential education to 1,000 traditional students and distance education (in-seat and online) to 18,000 adult learners.
  • Progress, indeed survival, requires effective planning.
strategic planning at columbia college
Strategic Planning at Columbia College
  • Until 2005 Columbia College’s strategic planning was fairly traditional, using off-the-shelf industrial planning models.
  • In 2005 the Collegeadopted HLC Criteria and Core Components as the template for planning.
the college adopted hlc criteria because
The College adopted HLC Criteria because:
  • They focus decisively and explicitly on higher education;
  • They use language familiar to higher education stakeholders;
  • They provide clear prompts for description and evaluation of achievements and goals;
  • They give examples of evidence that can be gathered to demonstrate achievement;
the college adopted hlc criteria because1
The College adopted HLC Criteria because:
  • They permit retrospective and prospective analyses of organizational effectiveness;
  • They provide strong guidance for departmental planning activities; and
  • The college directly engaged the Criteria as it prepared for its 2012 decennial reaccreditation.
how it works
How It Works

Columbia College was one of the last schools to use the old Criteria, so examples below use the old wording:

  • Old Criterion Four: The College promotes a life of learning for its faculty, administration, staff, and students in fostering and by supporting inquiry, creativity, practice, and social responsibility in ways consistent with its mission.
  • Old Core Component 4C: The College assesses the usefulness of its curricula to students who will live and work in a global, diverse, and technological society.

Old Core Component 4C Accomplishments

The strategic plan listed accomplishments under each Core Component.

  • The Bachelor of Arts degree includes a foreign language/foreign culture requirement.
  • A culminating experience is required in all baccalaureate and masters programs.
  • General education requirements support the liberal arts and sciences mission.
  • A comprehensive Assessment Plan was adopted in 2004.
old core component 4c accomplishments
Old Core Component 4C Accomplishments
  • All programs undergo rigorous review on a regular five-year schedule.
  • All master syllabi have been revised to include course objectives and measurable learning outcomes.
  • The curriculum is constantly being assessed and restructured to meet the needs of students.

Old Core Component 4C Goals

It also identified goals that needed to be accomplished.

  • Degree offerings for traditional and non-traditional students will increase.
  • The College’s expertise in providing innovative and relevant programs in Adult Higher Education will be further developed and marketed.
  • A five-year plan for programmatic expansion of adult learning will be developed.
  • An effective way to track and survey new graduates and alumni will be developed.
hlc self study strategic plan strategic plan hlc self study
HLC Self-Study/Strategic PlanStrategic Plan/HLC Self-Study
  • The HLC Self-Study Report became a detailed update of the strategic plan.
  • The update of the strategic plan became the Self-Study Report.
  • The process was utterly transparent to the visit team; they noted our model, but made no comment.
  • The HLC visit became a comprehensive consultancy on the institutional strategic plan.
  • Findings and recommendations from the team became the primary source material for the strategic plan update.
key goals
Key Goals
  • We laid the team report alongside Key Goals from the plan, which are examined about every year and a half, and substantially revised them.
  • The team report and critical team findings and recommendations became the drivers for the revision of the Key Goals.
team finding retention
Team Finding: Retention
  • The College had identified in our SSR/strategic plan: “The College’s retention rate is far below that of its peers.”
  • Columbia College’s Day freshman first-year retention rate is 68 percent.
  • Retention rates for freshman cohorts at off-campus locations, and four, five, and six year graduation rates for the College are also comparably low.
retention new key goal
Retention: New Key Goal
  • The new Key Goal became: “Establish and meet student recruitment, retention, and degree completion goals.”
  • The college also began addressing the problems created by how IPEDs measures retention – it assumes all schools have traditional student bodies going to class in traditional 16-week semesters.
  • We are working with other schools to develop meaningful retention and completion metrics for adult learners.
team finding general education
Team Finding: General Education
  • Another team finding about general education also affirmed what we had identified in our SSR/strategic plan:

“The general education requirement has been in place since 2000, requires a substantial number of credits, and seems to have little that is reflective of the unique purpose of a Columbia College undergraduate education. The self-study suggests that it is time to revise general education and one of the Dean’s goals is to begin that revision process this academic year. The team concurs that this is necessary.”

  • The new Key Goal became: “Review general education goals, assessment, and curriculum.”
team finding assessment
Team Finding: Assessment
  • A third team finding also affirmed our identification of gaps in our assessment work. The team recommendation was a bit unexpected in that it resulted in Commission follow-up.

“Assessment of both general education and the majors needs attention. Columbia College has an assessment plan in place that is being implemented, but there is little evidence of course-level assessment (by the College’s own admission) and little evidence of use of assessment data to make changes in student learning outcomes.”

team finding assessment1
Team Finding: Assessment
  • The new Key Goal became: “Implement assessment plan.”
  • A logical place to begin the revision process for both general education and assessment would be to structure a new general education program around a purposefully crafted set of general education student learning outcomes and experiences.
team finding assessment2
Team Finding: Assessment
  • We thought a focused visit was harsh and said so in our letter of response to the team report, but we are moving forward with great vigor to revise and implement our assessment plan.
the new criteria and core components
The New Criteria and Core Components
  • The model accommodates the new Criteria and Core Components in Pathways. The chief differences are that the new ones require more specific evidence and have less overlap.
  • The new Criteria may actually make the process of using criteria for strategic planning easier, as increased specificity permits a closer alignment with measurable outcomes.
  • On the other hand, the greater detail of the standards may leave less room for mission-specific or unique elements to strategic planning if using HLC criteria as a template.
the new criteria and core components1
The New Criteria and Core Components
  • On the other hand, HLC criteria do not have to be the entire strategic plan – other elements can be added as appropriate.
  • Furthermore, the mandatory “quality initiative” makes its inclusion in strategic planning a necessity. The initiative is internally considered in Years 3-4, proposed to HLC and reviewed in Years 5-7, with the report filed and reviewed in Years 7-9. Thus, the quality initiative must be a long-term project (i.e., one that is part of a strategic plan).
lessons learned
Lessons Learned
  • There are no significant disadvantage to using the criteria as strategic planning guidelines.
  • Criteria, Core Components and examples of evidence made the process transparent.
  • The advantages are numerous and have been noted earlier. The most significant advantages was realized in 2012, when we wrote the self-study report for the decennial reaccreditation and simultaneously updated our strategic plan.
  • Columbia College began using HLC Criteria for strategic planning in 2005.
  • The HLC template makes accomplishments and goals explicit and well-ordered and makes the need to continuously update the plan obvious.
  • It organically promotes an awareness of the Criteria and Core Components among constituents who need to be aware.
  • It has supported the planning and operational needs of a dynamic institution in ways that previous strategic planning approaches could not.
  • It gives strong direction to departmental planning.
  • It uses elements of traditional strategic planning. It can work for all types of institutions.
  • It deeply, broadly and seamlessly prepared us for a successful reaccreditation.
thank you questions
Thank you. Questions?
  • Dr. Terry B. Smith, Interim President

  • Dr. Steve Wiegenstein, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Dean for Graduate Studies

  • Misty Bush,Director of Institutional Compliance