Higher Learning Commission


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Affiliation with the Higher Learning Commission

Colleges and universities may be affiliated with HLC in one of two ways: by gaining and maintaining accredited status, which carries membership in HLC, or by gaining and maintaining candidate status, which is a limited-term status. Both are voluntary and are initiated by the institution.


HLC determines whether an institution is to be considered for candidacy through its Achieving Accreditation Process.

Rationale for Candidacy

Candidacy is a preaccreditation status. It affiliates the institution with HLC, but does not give it membership in the HLC. Candidacy provides time and support to a new and changing college or university as it develops into an accreditable organization. For most institutions, candidacy enables students to qualify for federal financial aid programs, and it often aids in the transferability of the candidate institution’s credits to another college or university.

Period of Candidacy

The term of Candidacy is four years. In exceptional circumstances, the Board may offer a fifth year of candidacy to an institution that demonstrates cause for an extension.

Candidacy Process

The Candidacy Process involves two events during the four-year term.

1.    Assurance Review and On-site Visit for Candidate Status

To achieve candidacy, the institution completes an Assurance Review and submits other required materials prior to the on-site visit.

A visiting team of peer reviewers determines whether the institution meets all the Eligibility Requirements and the Assumed Practices and whether it has the capacity to meet the Criteria for Accreditation fully within the four-year anticipated Candidate status duration. The recommendation of the peer review team enters the decision-making process.

The Institutional Actions Council conducts a hearing to consider the report and recommendation of the peer review team. The Institutional Actions Council prepares a report indicating its agreement with the findings and recommendation of the team or may provide different findings or a different recommendation. The record is reviewed by the HLC's Board of Trustees, which then renders the final decision to award candidate status.

2.    Biennial Evaluation

An institution hosts a required on-site biennial evaluation two years after candidacy is granted to determine whether the institution is making reasonable progress toward meeting accreditation requirements by the end of the candidacy period.

An institution that has completed two years of candidacy may file an application for early initial accreditation and host an on-site visit for initial accreditation to evaluate the institution for this purpose. The institution will be limited to one application for early initial accreditation during the term of candidacy. If the institution applies for early initial accreditation the Board may grant it or may require the institution to complete the full term of candidacy.

Moving to Accreditation

At the end of the four-year candidacy period, an institution will be evaluated for initial accreditation. Initial Accreditation includes an Assurance Review, on-site review by an HLC peer review team, and a hearing by the Institutional Actions Council, with the final decision rendered by the Board of Trustees. The principal difference is that for initial accreditation the institution must satisfy fully not only the Eligibility Requirements and the Assumed Practices, but all of the Criteria for Accreditation in full. Initial Accreditation requires a comprehensive evaluation for reaffirmation of accreditation within a maximum of five years.