The Institutional Actions Council of the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools recently took action on a visiting team’s recommendation to accredit University of Central Arkansas for seven years. 

The 10-member evaluation team conducted a site visit March 8-10. Its goal was to verify the university’s self-study findings, make judgments about UCA’s compliance with good practice, federal requirements, and HLC policies; recommend appropriate follow-up; and provide consultation to the university. The report covers the period between 2000-2009.

No sanctions or adverse actions were recommended by the team.

The Statement of Affiliation Status and Organizational Profile will be posted on the Higher Learning Commission’s website on Aug. 31. 

The team recognized significant accomplishments since the last accreditation visit including: 

• sustained growth of programs and scholarly productivity of programs in the College of Health and Behavioral Sciences;

• progress in the responding to the university’s financial crisis;

• successful efforts by the Graduate School to work across the campus in developing consensus-based graduate faculty criteria;

• outstanding support provided by the Instructional Development Center to faculty;

• attractive and well-maintained physical plant;

• the university’s "strong and mutually supportive" relationships with it communities. 

• the "visible and important" roles played by the campus’s learning communities, including Residential Colleges, in providing educational opportunities to undergraduate students. 

Team members also commended the faculty and staff for their resiliency and deep commitment to the university’s mission and to the students during turbulent times. Faculty and staff "remained dedicated to high quality of teaching, accessible student support, and effective and innovative learning experiences," the report states. 

However, the team identified issues related to governance, assessment of student learning, diversity and internationalization, enrollment management, processes and employee development in its report. 

Also, the university had not made progress since the 2000 accreditation visit to implement a comprehensive, long-range plan, the report states. A "Strategic Framework" was adopted in 2004 to address the need for a long-range plan, but was not fully implemented. 

The university has taken steps to develop a strategic plan that will drive the university’s future growth. In February, representatives from the faculty, staff, and student body began working on a strategic plan that will look at institutional and environmental driving forces that impact the university as well as UCA’s strengths and weaknesses. The proposed plan also will focus on the university’s core values, mission, vision and institutional distinctiveness. The strategic plan is expected to be completed during the 2010-2011 academic year. 

The team recognized that the present administration has committed to institution-wide planning and broad participation in planning. 

The university will submit a monitoring report to the Higher Learning Commission on May 1, 2012 on the status of the strategic planning process. The team will conduct a focus visit on the long-range planning implementation in the spring of 2014. The team recommends that the next comprehensive visit occur in 2016-17. The team indicated that if the 2014 visit goes well the 2014 team may recommend extending the time frame for the next comprehensive visit to 2020.

The monitoring report must also address the areas of: meeting the needs of diverse students and employees; incorporating shared governance, transparent communication, and an organizational and administrative structure with well-defined roles and responsibilities; assessment of student learning aligned with the mission of the university; and evaluating and measuring institutional effectiveness in non-instructional programs, institutional outreach, and student support for all instructional delivery modes, the report states. 

"We appreciate the site team’s hard work during their visit and their re-affirmation that we are now addressing the right issues," UCA president Allen Meadors said. "A special thanks to our university community for stepping up and helping address these issues. With the current commitment, I am confident that UCA can address all of the issues identified by the site visit team within the time-frame suggested by the Higher Learning Commission."  

Dr. Lance Grahn, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, said the HLC report fundamentally reaffirms the essential quality of UCA’s academic programs, faculty, and graduates. 

"It commends the faculty for its continuing commitment to high quality teaching, learning, research, and creative activities despite the financial challenges that the university faced two years ago," he said. "In fact, the report cited the university’s potential to become one of the very best public comprehensive universities in the entire country. UCA’s leadership is proud of the university’s indispensable academic strength. 

"At the same time, we recognize that we have much to do to make UCA even stronger, more vital, and all the more accountable to our entire UCA community," he continued. "And even though much of the critique dates back 10, even 20 years, UCA’s current leadership takes the responsibility for moving UCA forward with firmer commitments to assessment, planning, diversity, and internationalization. The leadership trusts that its efforts this past year to launch several major planning initiatives and enhance diversity and internationalization give our community confidence that UCA’s future is indeed bright. " 

Dr. Lynn Burley, president of the Faculty Senate, said, "The HLC Report affirms what the faculty already knows; our efforts to engage our students, to provide them with meaningful opportunities and to foster an atmosphere of creativity, curiosity, and scholarship are achieved every day. We have played a major role in updating and expanding our curriculum in both undergraduate and graduate programs so that we can offer students the best education and many opportunities that cannot be found elsewhere in the state. The faculty continues to actively engage in our General Education Program, participate in Faculty Development programs and is generally well supported in our efforts to improve our teaching and our scholarship."