Higher Learning Commission


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Institutional Improvement on the Standard Pathway

HLC assesses assurance and improvement efforts at institutions on the Standard Pathway during the comprehensive evaluations conducted in Year 4 and Year 10 of the pathway cycle. Institutions may also be required to address improvement through interim monitoring.

As part of the comprehensive evaluation, institutions demonstrate their improvement efforts in an expanded Assurance Filing. Institutions should focus on improvements related to HLC’s Criteria for Accreditation. Institutions on the Standard Pathway are expected to demonstrate improvement addressing concerns from past evaluations. Institutions without previously identified improvement requirements, or those that have selected the Standard Pathway, may identify and showcase improvement in areas of their choice.

Resources for Institutions on the Standard Pathway

HLC offers institutions on the Standard Pathway assistance in formulating improvement plans and feedback on plans that have been drafted. Although participation is not required, HLC encourages institutions to take advantage of the offerings.

HLC’s assistance to institutions does not guarantee approval or successful completion of the institution’s improvement component on the Standard Pathway. Instead, institutions will gain an understanding of how to draft strong Assurance Arguments that highlight the strides institutions have made in improvement.

Standard Pathway Seminars

Institutions on the Standard Pathway that are preparing for a comprehensive evaluation in the next two academic years will receive invitations to attend a one-day, in-person seminar on addressing improvement in the Assurance Argument. Invitations are sent to the Accreditation Liaison Officer, Assurance System Coordinator and Chief Academic Officer of eligible institutions. The next seminars will be held in spring 2017.

At the seminars, institutional teams develop strategies to demonstrate improvement within the Criteria for Accreditation. Teams may register for one of two seminar options, depending on their stage of preparation for their next comprehensive evaluation:

  • Institutions in the beginning stages of preparation (those in Years 2 and 8 of the Standard Pathway cycle) can attend the “Planning for Improvement” seminar, designed to help participants formulate a plan for gathering evidence, developing materials and then writing the Assurance Argument for the comprehensive evaluation. Emphasis is placed on evidence needed and what the institution must address before its next comprehensive evaluation.
  • Institutions that are in the final stages of preparing their materials for the comprehensive evaluation (those in Years 3 and 9 of the Standard Pathway cycle) and are interested in receiving feedback from other institutions as well as HLC peer reviewers can attend the "Honing the Argument” seminar. Participants will be required to complete pre-work related to their Assurance Argument, which will help to frame the discussions on-site. This program is ideal for those who are close to completing their Assurance Argument.

Standard Pathway Q&A Webinars

HLC hosts a series of one-hour webinars where participants have the opportunity to ask questions about any topic related to the Standard Pathway, including the Assurance System, embedded improvement, monitoring, and so forth. This is not a formal presentation, and attendees are encouraged to fully participate in an open exchange. Representatives from all institutions on the Standard Pathway are welcome to participate.

Dates for upcoming webinars will be announced in August 2017.

Assurance Argument Improvement Plan Feedback

In the academic year preceding the comprehensive evaluation, institutions on the Standard Pathway may submit an improvement plan to their HLC staff liaison for feedback.

The institution’s plan should be submitted via email to its staff liaison approximately one year before the date of its evaluation. After receiving the plan, the institution’s staff liaison will read the plan and provide comments, typically within four to six weeks. 

The improvement plan should be 500 to 800 words outlining how improvement will be addressed within the Assurance Argument. Within the plan, the institution should identify any concerns outlined during its last comprehensive evaluation, any interim monitoring and/or substantive change actions, the topical area(s) to be addressed, and the Core Components where the information will be addressed in the Assurance Argument.

The staff liaison’s comments are intended to clarify expectations regarding the issues to be addressed within the Assurance Argument. For instance, an institution’s staff liaison may point out a previously identified concern the institution had missed in the plan. The institution will then have an opportunity to address any issues prior to the Assurance Filing. HLC liaisons do not “approve” or “endorse” plans, but simply provide comments to the institution.


Assurance System

HLC’s Assurance System is a web-based technology that institutions use to prepare their Assurance Filing.

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Training and System Details

Assurance System Manual

Pathways for Reaffirmation of Accreditation

AQIP Pathway

Open Pathway


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