Oberlin Prepares for Re-accreditation

Oberlin College and Conservatory will be evaluated for re-accreditation on Oct. 15 and 16 to determine if the education provided by the College meets both internal goals and quality levels set by the U.S. Department of Education. This will be the College’s first evaluation in 10 years.

The federal government appoints accrediting agencies to oversee colleges and universities in different regions. Oberlin College’s regional agency is the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), a Chicago-based organization entrusted with accrediting collegiate institutions from Ohio’s eastern border all the way to New Mexico.

According to Conservatory Dean Bill Quillen, re-accreditation is a “a peer-driven process.” Accreditors are fellow academics who decide upon the institutional integrity of the school they evaluate.

The accreditors are Calvin College’s Dean for Academic Administration, Emeritus Dr. Michael Stob; Dean Dr. Najiba Benabess of Millikin University; Dr. Brian Ernsting, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty at Wartburg College; Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer of Mountwest Community and Technical College Dr. Harry Faulk; and Dr. Donald Bowyer, Dean of the Schools of Arts at Sunway University in Malaysia.

Though the HLC is not a federal agency itself, the organization is recognized by the U.S. government and given authority to determine accreditation. HLC states that its regional schools must fulfill specific criteria.

“Oberlin has to affirm and demonstrate how it fulfills the five criteria,” Dean Quillen said. “Mission; Integrity: Ethical and Responsible Conduct; Teaching and Learning: Quality, Resources, and Support; Teaching and Learning: Evaluation and Improvement; and Resources, Planning, and Institutional Effectiveness.”

The College compiled a document known as the Assurance Argument in preparation for the evaluation. This 35,000-word document outlines Oberlin’s compliance to the five pillars as mandated by the HLC.

Though similar in focus and timing, the accreditation process is a separate evaluation from those of the Academic and Administrative Program Review Steering Committee. Whereas the AAPR investigation is an internal process, accreditation is external. If successful, the accreditation process will ensure access to federal financial aid for both the College and its students.

Compiling the Assurance Argument has been a year-long, campus-wide effort. Members of Student IT, Student Life, the academic departments, Admissions, and Communications have all contributed information to the document, according to Ross Peacock at the Office of Institutional Research.

Specifically, as stated by Dean Quillen, they have been “gathering information, talking to individuals, gathering prose, talking to all kinds of people across campus.”

Based on the quality of Oberlin’s assessment, the accreditors will reach one of three conclusions: the College meets or exceeds expectations, and new accreditors will return in 10 years; there are some issues that need to be addressed, so accreditors will visit in five years; or the situation is dire and the HLC will give the school two years to address its issues. Oberlin has only ever received the first of the three results. Nonetheless, Oberlin’s current financial situation is a potential concern.

The Review received a summary of Oberlin’s Assurance Argument, spanning six pages. In the final section (“Resources, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness”), the document states, “As reflected in the FY 2017 audited financial statements, Oberlin College’s financial condition

continues to be very solid.” Despite the confident statement, concern over the College’s financial future circles the administration.

“Oberlin is, granted, in financial problem. We are trying to address them. Nor with controversy, but we are trying to address them. We have a plan,” Peacock said.

Vice President for Finance and Administration Rebecca Vazquez- Skillings could not be reached for comment.

Next week, accreditors will meet privately with Oberlin President Carmen Twillie Ambar, faculty, the Registrar, representatives from Financial Aid, the AAPR Steering Committee, Educational Plans and

Programs Committee within the Conservatory, and the Budget Team. They will likely interview students.

All five accreditors will host three public forums. These are open to all students, faculty, and community members. According to a recent email from the Arts and Sciences Dean, “The First Forum is on Monday, Oct. 15 at 9:30-10:15 a.m. in Kulas Hall and will focus on Oberlin’s Mission and Integrity. The Second Forum is on Monday, Oct. 15 at 10:15-11 a.m. in Kulas Hall and will focus on Oberlin’s Teaching and Learning. The Third Forum is on Monday, Oct. 15 at 4:15- 5 p.m. in King 106 and will focus on Oberlin’s Resources, Planning, and Institutional Effectiveness.”