UND prepares for ‘Exceptional’ re-accreditation

RELAUNCH: University gears up for Higher Learning Commission’s visit in October.

One hundred years after UND’s initial accreditation, the school is celebrating what University officials have described as “nothing cooler ever in the history of North Dakota.”

A steady stream of students, faculty and staff made their way  Tuesday afternoon into the Memorial Union Ballroom for “Exceptional UND: Realizing the Vision.” Stacks of free t-shirts sat near the door and university event staff lined the back wall as the presentation, intended to rally students and staff for the Higher Learning Commission’s re-accreditation visit Oct. 28 to 30.

Tuesday’s event was multi-focal. First, it was a relaunch of the Exceptional UND — the plan used to lead the school forward — which was first spearheaded by UND President Robert Kelley in 2010. Second, the event was used to release results from UND’s self-study — an evaluation of how the school measures in several key areas — which was completed as part of the school’s re-accreditation process. The re-accreditation process certifies the university and provides documentation that the school is meeting set standards for higher eduction.

“UND is very prepared for our re-accreditation,” Kelley said in a UND press release. “I believe the HLC team will see that UND is an engaged institution with a unique mission and responsibilities to our community and state. UND is part of the North Dakota University System guided by the policies of the North Dakota State Board of Education, and UND has a single goal in mind: to provide the best possible educational environment and opportunities for our students.”

The roughly 300-page study examines five areas of the university — mission; integrity, teaching and learning: quality, resources and support; teaching and learning: evaluation and improvement; and resources planning and institutional effectiveness.

“The self-survey helps inform us where we’re at with Exceptional UND and how we can go forward with Exceptional UND and a lot of ideas to improve where we’ve already been,” self-survey coordinator Patrick O’Neill said.

Putting together the multi-faceted report has been a process spanning nearly three years. Two and a half years ago, a steering committee was put together to help guide the process. Since then, self-study coordinator Joan Hawthorne said the process has involved nearly 100 people working on the various evaluation categories.

“We set out to insure that this process would be not only about finding out things for our re-accreditation — which we have done — but to insure that the things we found out would be used going forward to help us continue on the path we need to be on and to improve,” Hawthorne said. “So that’s the Exceptional UND connection.”

UND has made progress many areas, but Hawthorne said there are still some things, like assessment and faculty salaries, where there is room for improvement. However, overall, Hawthorne said the results are positive.

“We do a good job on a lot of things,” Hawthorne said. “We have areas for growth and areas for change … but we do a good job.”

During the event Kelley and other UND faculty highlighted the various initiatives the university is addressing with Exceptional UND, these five areas include Enriching the Student Experience, Gathering, Collaborating, Expanding UND’s Presence, and Enhancing Quality of Life. Hawthorne said students can already feel the impact of some of these initiatives.

“Student impact doesn’t happen overnight,” Hawthorne said. “We already have things like the SCALE-UP classroom, we have increased emphasis on undergraduate research — I mean we have a lot of things like that going on that do have a direct impact on students. Those are part of Exceptional UND.”

Hawthorne said on a more basic level, UND’s accreditation as a university allows the school to receive federal funding, impacting students on the monetary level as well.

O’Neill said Exceptional UND’s reach extends beyond students.

“Everybody is a stakeholder,” O’Neill said. “Students in some sense less so because they’re not here as a career, like faculty and staff. But you become an alum, and the success of your university is always a part of who you are. So the fact that this is going to help — this whole idea of Exceptional UND as our strategic vision — is going to help with enhancing our university, impacts students today, students tomorrow.

Carrie Sandstrom is the Editor-in-chief of The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].