What is the Higher Learning Commission?

Each of the six regional accrediting bodies in the United States operates separate corporations and commission members that actually review higher education programs and either grant accreditation to schools in their geographic region or revoke it if necessary. The Higher Learning Commission isĀ just such a body, functioning within the broader North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Implications for Schools in the North Central Region

The Higher Learning Commission exists to review academic programs at member institutions, or prospective member institutions, and then either grant or deny accreditation based on their findings. This process is overseen by a board of trustees, all of whom are elected by members of the commission, and overseen by a president of the who is then elected by the board.

Any decisions made based on a school’s academic performance is overseen not only by this governing board of trustees, but also by representatives from the school itself and from the public. These representatives and commission members essentially work in conference, examining the details of each program and spotlighting areas where changes could be made to better represent the adopted bylaws and ideals of the broader North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

This is considered more of a peer review process than a process dictated by commission governance, and for this reason it allows schools to have a bit more input about the nature, direction, and excellence of each program reviewed by the HLC.

Federal and State Recognition is Important Within the HLC

The Higher Learning Commission is often viewed by the public as the major decision point about a school’s academic worthiness, but this is only partially true. While the commission has the last word on whether or not it will offer the necessary credentials to each institution that it oversees, those decisions are made in a way that coincides with both federal and state law.

The federal government sets out certain standards and procedures that must be followed by all accrediting bodies and all commissions within those regional groups. The HLC enforces those standards within the accrediting process and peer review procedures. Then, the commission looks to each state’s legislation regarding the nature of the programs, the standard of education that should be offered to residents of that state, and any other regulation passed by state representatives and governors. It combines these state-mandated standards with its own accrediting process and federal responsibilities into a program referred to as “The Triad.”

If a school meets each of the three sets of requirements within this “triad,” the Higher Learning Commission recommends accreditation by the broader North Central regional group. If these requirements aren’t fully reached, the commission may recommend certain changes to specific programs in order to meet state, federal, and regional standards.

A Major Source of Accreditation Within the United States

The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools is the largest regional accrediting body in the United States based solely on land area. The school’s accreditations reach as far south as Oklahoma, as far north as the Canadian border, and stretch over an area ranging from Wyoming to West Virginia. For this reason, the Higher Learning Commission is one of the most important bodies within higher education anywhere in the United States. Its emphasis on the “triad” mentioned earlier also makes it one of the most rigorous and valuable accrediting agencies in the country.