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Antioch College— Accreditation team visits

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Antioch College could clear a major hurdle on the long road to gaining accreditation if a three-day site visit this week by the regional accreditation agency is successful.

In what Antioch College Mark Roosevelt recently called “the biggest moment in the history of the college’s re-creation,” four peer reviewers from the North Central Association Higher Learning Commission visited Antioch for three days earlier this week to see the college’s progress since re-opening in 2009. That group could recommend Antioch as a candidate for accreditation.

But the process is far from over, and any recommendation from the site team is not final.

“Candidate status is a step that institutions have to go through becoming accredited formally,” explained John Hausaman, a spokesperson with the Higher Learning Commission, in a recent interview.

If Antioch is awarded candidacy in a decision expected by the Higher Learning Commission’s 18-member board of trustees next June, Antioch would have four years to meet requirements for initial accreditation, while the college could seek initial accreditation in as few as two years, Hausaman said.

In the mean time, if the college is awarded candidacy, Antioch students would be eligible for federal financial assistance and work-study monies and the college could accept international students as it works towards initial accreditation. In addition, Antioch students could more easily transfer college credits to another institution or graduate school. According to the Higher Learning Commission’s website “candidacy provides time and support to a new and changing college or university as it develops into an accreditable organization.”

College officials declined to comment for this story on the accreditation process, saying that the Higher Learning Commission has advised them to not speak to the news media.

Becoming an accredited institution of higher education is no small feat. After losing accreditation when it closed in 2008, Antioch College is now undertaking a multi-phase, multi-year process to become accredited. The first step is seeking candidacy status from the North Central Association Higher Learning Commission, which oversees 1,000 colleges in a 19-state region. While Antioch was previously accredited by the regional accreditor, the college has to go through the same process that a new college or university would, according to Hausaman, who said Antioch had to “start from scratch.”

Roosevelt said at a community potluck last month that the road to accreditation has been “an incredible amount of work,” and that he is optimistic that the site visitors will understand Antioch’s uniqueness as a small, liberal arts college that focuses on cooperative education.

“The site team selected for us will get us [because] they come from institutions that are not so dissimilar from us,” Roosevelt said.

Site visitors are Susan Rydell, Sandra Bowles, Frank Gersich and Frank Winfrey. Rydell is a charter faculty member in the psychology department of the Metropolitan University in Minneapolis, a college that claims to “integrate real life and learning” and is well known for community partnerships, Roosevelt said. Bowles is a professor of nursing at the University of Charleston, which was originally founded by Southern Methodists as a seminary, has built most of its campus buildings in the last 15 years and has a smaller endowment than Antioch, according to Roosevelt. Gersich is a professor of accounting at Monmouth College in Illinois, which, like Antioch, was founded in 1853 and has an interdisciplinary focus. Winfrey is a professor of management at Lyon College in Arkansas, a small liberal arts school that will in 2015 reinstate its football team. Antioch has been without a football team since 1928.

“We have a site team of people who I think will come to this campus, understand the constraints, but understand that we’ve made incredible progress — I think that’s reason for optimism,” Roosevelt said last month.

Among other on-campus activities this week, site visitors met with representatives from the Yellow Springs community and Antioch alumni on the college’s relationship with the village.

Ahead of the visit, the college submitted a 14-month self-study evaluation along with more than 2,000 pages of documentation to the Higher Learning Commission. An executive summary of the self-study report is available at the college’s website, while the full report will be available after the site visit. The report documents Antioch’s strengths, challenges and future directions in the five criteria in which it will be evaluated for initial accreditation — 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.

“Preparing to enter its third academic year, Antioch College has reached a point of early stability,” according to the self-study report. “The College is attracting and retaining right-fit students; providing a rigorous, experiential, and transformative learning experience; guiding students toward success; building a smart, efficient, and sustainable campus; exploring new financial models; and providing opportunities for students to connect their academic knowledge to the world of work, across the country and around the globe.”

If Antioch is granted candidacy status, it would begin to work towards initial accreditation, which is achieved through a process of self-study, another on-site review by an evaluation team and a hearing at the Institutional Actions Council, according to the Higher Learning Commission website.

“Basically our accreditation criteria and standards look at the institution as a whole — the governance, mission, finances and the academics,” Hausaman said.

While the college is not accredited, the Ohio Board of Regents has authorized the college to grant bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees after it conducted its own site visit in 2011. That provisional authorization is dependent upon Antioch gaining accreditation within six years of offering instruction. Antioch is also a member of the Great Lakes Colleges Association, a consortium of 13 private liberal arts colleges in the region, which have agreed to review Antioch credits and give Antioch students the ability to transfer to other schools in the association.

Accreditation carries many benefits, according to a document from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Accreditation encourages confidence in the institution, assures that a neutral party has verified the quality of education, provides students access to federal financial aid, aids the transfer of credits among institutions, and signals to employers that an educational program has met widely-accepted standards. A degree from an accredited institution is also a requirement for the entrance into some professions.

“Accreditation is a symbol of the quality of the institution,” Hausaman said.

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