University earns 10-year accreditation

Author: Gail Hinchion Mancini


The University of Notre Dame has received a full, 10-year accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges. The final evaluation report portrays the University as both well managed and on track with its mission.

If any institution can take ownership of the dynamic relationship between ‘great universityand ‘Catholic university,it is Notre Dame: The Universitys history and proven strengths give it that authority,states the report, which compiled the findings of a 15-member team of peers from institutions such as Duke, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Stanford and Brown universities and the Catholic institutions DePaul and St. Louis universities.

The evaluation process is being calledvery positiveby the internal team that shepherded the process and that included incoming President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

We not only can build a great Catholic university, we will ,Father Jenkins said.Our Catholic mission combined with a commitment to excellence makes us one of the most interesting universities in this country, and we must be resolute in pursing this goal.

Somewhat like a physiciansclean bill of health,a full NCA accreditation means that no intermittent checkups are required over the next 10 years. In contrast, since the 1994 evaluation, the University has had to return to the commission three times to report on its student assessment practices.

The most gratifying part was winning approval without follow-up for the next 10 years,Father Jenkins said.We have made progress, and because of the hard work and cooperative attitude of so many on campus we sailed through this one.

The evaluation team also included Maura Ryan, associate provost during Jenkinsrecent sabbatical, and Barbara Walvoord, who coordinated the self-study. The Universitys recently completed strategic plan,Fulfilling the Promise,supported the self-evaluation process. Distribution of the evaluation report to officers, deans, department heads and the directors of centers and institutes is being coordinated by Dennis Jacobs, vice president and associate provost.

The recently released report includes pointed language on the need to continue to develop student assessment processes, but finds progress in that area adequate.

Walvoord, who is a national expert on assessment and the former director of Notre Dames Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning, frames the student assessment question by noting the oft-expressed complaint thattodays college graduates cant write.A well-designed student assessment process would address such a shortcoming by systematically examining the sources of this failure and identifying and instituting solutions that correct the problem across the curriculum, she said.

Approval of Notre Dames progress in student assessment was not automatic, Walvoord said, and the evaluation committee recommended the University continue addressing the issue by instituting a coordinated and well-developed infrastructure of dedicated staff and standing committees.

The commissions evaluation is mandatory for institutions receiving federal aid, although the process is conducted by peer, rather than governmental, review. Evaluation committees are charged with assuring that institutions meet fundamental standards of higher education, and that the administration and faculty demonstrate that they systematically assess and address strengths and weaknesses.

The evaluation committee agreed with Notre Dames assessment of areas in need of attention, noting:

  • Graduate student stipends and medical benefits need to be enhanced to support the Universitys aspiration to be a top-flight research institution.
  • The University should address adisjunctionbetween the First Year of Studies program and the faculty who teach first-year courses.
  • More attention needs to be given to the goal of increasing student, faculty and administrative diversity, to improving the presence of diversity issues in the curriculum, and to better integrating women and members of other underrepresented groups who might feel disenfranchised.
  • Funding for the library remains inadequate, as clear priorities need to be forged on how limited funds should be allocated.

Besides examining the institutions plans for its future, the team reviewed the Universitys progress on concerns cited in the 1994 accreditation. The evaluation teams interest was not that problems have been solved, but that they have been adequately addressed and that progress has been made.

Such was the case with six of the seven concerns noted in the 1994 evaluation. The 2004 report deems asinadequatethe steps taken to improve communication with students.

Although the institution has studied this problem, and changes have been made, the University continues to need a consistent method of communication (or a formal structure for communication and dialogue on issues of concern to students) between students, student leaders and the senior level administrators,the report states. Although the evaluation team chose to label this area one of continued concern, Rev. Mark Poorman, C.S.C., vice president for student affairs, said he believes the dialogue between the administration and students has improved and deepened in the last decade, and will continue to do so.

I take very seriously the concerns raised by the NCA in this regard,Father Poorman said.Clearly,administrators across the University always need to be attentive to how they can improve communication with students.At the same time, I see many more structures and opportunities for meaningful dialogue today than were in place 10 years ago.

In response to the evaluation team’s concerns about communication with students, the University prepared an addendum to its original self-assessment report, providing further detail about the structures that have been put into place in recent years to facilitate better communication between students and administrators, including student membership on a wide variety of University committees relating to academics, student life, and business operations.

The report also includes notes on areas the team found worthy of high praise. The list of 23 high points includes steady progress in building a research program. The team also gave high marks to the residential life program, information technology, human resources, institutional research, theKanebCenters support for teaching, loyal and generous alumni, supportive trustees, and integrity in nationally distinguished athletic programs.

TopicID: 10707