The North Central Assocation of Colleges and Schools, commonly referred to as the North Central Association or NCA, is a peer review and evaluation association whose members include schools, colleges and universities located in 19 U.S. states. Its purpose is to provide educational accreditation to schools within its jurisdiction. The NCA is one of six regional education accreditors in the U.S. and is recognized by the United States Department of Education (DOE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) as a regional accrediting body for higher education institutions. The specific division within the NCA that is responsible for accrediting higher education institutions is its Higher Learning Commission.
The NCA accredits more schools than any other accreditation body, 10,000 in total. It accredits over 1,000 higher education institutions including colleges, universities and vocational schools. The NCA accredits education institutions in the states of Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming, as well as the Navajo Nation which is located throughout Arizona, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico.
The Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
The North Central Association of colleges and Schools is made up of two separate independent corporations; the commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA CASI), which accredits elementary, middle, and secondary schools, and adult-vocational, college prep and other post-secondary non-degree granting institutions, and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), which is responsible for accrediting degree-granting colleges, universities and vocational schools.
Before any higher education institution can receive full accreditation status through HLC they must first apply for candidacy with the HLC. Once they’ve become a candidate institutions must maintain their candidacy status for a minimum of two years before applying for accreditation. During the candidacy period (which is usually 4 years) an institution must demonstrate that they meet all Eligibility Requirements, document to what degree they meet Criteria for Accreditation and provide a plan for how they will meet Criteria for Accreditation requirements. Throughout the candidacy period, HLC teams evaluate a candidates progress toward accreditation.
The Criteria for Accreditation
The Criteria for Accreditation as set forth by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) are broken down into five criterions. These include the following:
- Criterion One: Mission and Integrity. An institution must have in place a structure as well as processes that involve the board, administration, faculty, staff, and students to ensure that it can achieve its goals and fulfill its mission. Specifically, the institution must clearly document its mission and commitments to its students and the public, show in its mission documents that it recognizes the diversity of its learners, and demonstrated that it has the administrative capability to promote effective leadership and fulfill its mission.
- Criterion Two: Preparing for the Future. An institution must have a plan in place that demonstrates how it is preparing for the future, specifically, the plan should detail how it can fulfill its mission, improve the quality of its education, and respond to challenges and opportunities on an ongoing basis.
- Criterion Three: Student Learning and Effective Teaching. An institution must provide evidence that their students are progressing and learning. To this end, a school must show that each program has clearly stated learning outcomes and student progress can be monitored and assessed.
- Criterion Four: Acquistion, Discovery, and Application of Knowledge. An institution must demonstrate it values a life of learning for its faculty, administration, staff and students.
- Criterion Five: Engagement and Service. An institution must show that it learns from, engages with, and responds to its constituencies. It must also show that its internal and external constituencies value the services it provides as an education institution.
To learn more about the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) you can visit their website at www.ncahlc.org. To check and see if an institution is accredited by HLC you can search the Higher Learning Commission’s directory of accredited institutions at http://ncahlc.org/Directory-of-HLC-Institutions.html.