About the HLC Open Pathways Project

January 20, 2012

Dear Marshall University Colleagues and Friends,

Welcome to the website for the university’s Quality Improvement Initiative, one part of the university’s larger endeavor to earn continued accreditation in 2015 through the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association.  Through this site you will have access to supporting documents and results of the university’s collaboration with the Higher Learning Commission, as it implements HLC’s new accreditation process called the Pathways Demonstration Project.

In April 2011, Marshall University was selected and invited to join a cohort of 20 other institutions (public and private; four-year and two-year) to participate in the new Pathways Demonstration accreditation process.  Pathways replaces the traditional PEAQ (Program to Evaluate and Advance Quality) accreditation process in which Marshall has participated historically and most recently for its accreditation review in 2005.  Under the schedule for the PEAQ process, Marshall’s next comprehensive accreditation review would have taken place in academic year 2015-2016.  However, the HLC is eliminating the PEAQ process effective in 2015.  So, as an alternative to PEAQ the HLC has invited the university to participate in the Open Pathways project.

As many of you may recall from your participation in the 2005-2006 accreditation review, PEAQ required a very extensive institutional self-study, (the most recent 2005 self-study resulted in 3 cubic feet of documentation), an evaluation by a team of at least four trained peer reviewers, and final decision-making by the HLC through three panels.  By comparison, the Pathways option is significantly streamlined and includes a continuous and electronic means of submitting documentation for reaffirmation of accreditation.  In addition, Marshall University’s participation in Pathways should result in the reaffirmation of accreditation in 2015 lasting through 2025.

The Open Pathways project consists of two key components:

  1. Assurance Process:  The Assurance Argument component requires Marshall University to develop and present an argument that makes the case for reaffirmation of the university’s accreditation with HLC, showing how the university meets the Criteria for Accreditation as well as all federal requirements.  The evidence used to support the Assurance Argument consists of the continuous accumulation of electronically stored information and assessment data provided by Marshall.  The criteria are broad statements that are applied to seek evidence of continual improvement, goals, and best practices.  Each criterion includes more specific core components.  At this time, HLC is in the process of revising its Criteria and Core Components for Accreditation. The five broad criteria currently under consideration are:
HLC Gamma Version Criterion Statements
1. Mission
The institution’s mission is clear and articulated publicly; it guides the institution’s operations.
2.  Ethical and Responsible Conduct
The institution fulfills its mission ethically and responsibly.
3.  Teaching and Learning-Quality, Resources, and Support
The institution provides high quality education, where and however its offerings are delivered.
4.  Teaching and Learning Evaluation and Improvement
The institution demonstrates responsibility for the quality of its educational programs, learning environments, and support servic­es, and evaluates their effective­ness for student learning through processes designed to promote continuous improvement.
5.  Resources, Planning, and Institutional Effectiveness
The institution’s resources, structures, and processes are suf­ficient to fulfill its mission, improve the quality of its educational offer­ings, and respond to future chal­lenges and opportunities. The insti­tution plans for the future.

These five criteria are informed by convincing evidentiary findings that demonstrate the following core values:

  • Focus on student learning.
  • Education as a public purpose.
  • Education for a diverse, technologically, globally connected world.
  • A culture of continuous improvement.
  • Evidence-based institutional learning and self-presentation.
  • Integrity, transparency, and ethical behavior or practice.
  • Governance for the well-being of the institution.
  • Planning and management of resources to ensure institutional sustainability.
  • Mission-centered evaluation.
  • Accreditation through peer review.

2.  Improvement Process Quality Initiative. The Improvement Process or Quality Initiative is a new and special process that is part of Marshall University’s participation in the Pathways route to continued accreditation.  The process will conclude in 2015 with a Results Visit by a two-person peer review team appointed by HLC.  The core goal of this process is to examine, test, pilot, and assess the usefulness of the Degree Qualifications Profile (DP) developed by the private Lumina Foundation for Education. The Degree Profile is a tool to help identify and define the knowledge and skills students need to be successful by earning associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degrees. Through the process of piloting and testing the Lumina Degree Profile learning outcomes in an assessment practice, the Degree Profile is designed to assist institutions to identify and to explore elements of the learning experience needed to develop an evidentiary response to the question, “what is the meaning of a university degree?”  For the purposes of Marshall’s quality initiative, testing the Degree Profile learning outcomes will assist the university in responding to these related questions:

  • What are the goals of a university education; and more specifically for Marshall University,
  • What should a Marshall University graduate, at the various degree levels, know and be able to do?
  • What is distinctive about the Marshall University learning experience?

The DP identifies five critical areas of learning:

    1. Specialized knowledge (understanding of terminology, theory, methods, tools literature, complex programs or applications, and cognizance of the limits of the field);
    2. Broad integrative knowledge (practice in core fields ranging from science and the social sciences through the humanities and arts and development of global, cultural and democratic perspectives);
    3. Intellectual skills (fluency in oral and written communications, analytic inquiry, quantitative fluency, use of information resources, engaging diverse perspectives);
    4. Applied learning (demonstration of interaction of academic and non-academic settings and the corresponding integration of theory and practice);
    5. Civic engagement (capacity to use analysis and reflection in out-of-class experiences).

A description of our Quality Initiative is provided at http://www.marshall.edu/hlcopenpathways.  Also, a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) is provided in anticipation of some questions that you may have.  You may submit additional questions to Academic-affairs@marshall.edu.

We believe our participation in this pilot project provides us with a tremendous opportunity to engage in a review process that has real meaning for the 21st century, to examine closely how we teach, how that teaching translates to student learning, and to articulate the meaning of a Marshall University degree at the different degree levels.  In addition, and in accord with the agreement we have with the HLC, our good faith effort to test the Degree Profile should result in the reaffirmation of our accreditation in 2015 lasting through 2025.

As you will see from the project description, every academic unit—department, school, college—offering associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees will participate in the Quality Initiative project of testing the Lumina Foundation Degree Qualifications Profile learning outcomes through our annual assessment activities. We thank you in advance for all you will do to test and validate not only the Degree Profile learning outcomes but those outcomes faculty have established and will establish for their respective programs following completion of the Quality Initiative.  Collectively, these efforts serve everyone’s best interests, especially as demands and expectations for greater accountability in higher education continue to grow and accelerate at both the federal and state levels.

The Pathways accreditation process will focus at the outset on the next four years, 2012-2015.  The Quality Initiative started January 9, 2012, and will be completed by July 2013.  The Assurance Argument element will continue the Pathways accreditation process beginning in the Fall 2013 and will be completed in the Fall 2015.

We look forward to your contributions and to your assessment of the Quality Initiative project in 2013, when we provide the Higher Learning Commission with a final report of our testing of the Lumina Degree Qualifications Profile.  Your contributions to the Quality Initiative will establish the framework for collecting and submitting the evidence we will need to make the case for reaccreditation in the Assurance Argument component of the Open Pathways project in academic years 2013-2014 and 2014-2015.

Again, thank you in advance for your contributions to what promises to be a highly successful and meaningful endeavor on behalf of Marshall University’s future.


Stephen J. Kopp, Ph.D.,

Gayle L. Ormiston, Ph.D.,
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs