School links general ed revisions to spring accreditation visit

PNW is using a scheduled accreditation review by the Higher Learning Commission in April to revise the university’s general education requirements.

“This is an opportunity to assess where we are and look at ways to improve, which we always want to do,” said Libbie Pelter, faculty senate chair in an interview on WJOB Radio.

The university has begun preparing for the spring visit by HLC auditors, The accreditation body was last here when the Hammond and Westville campuses merged to form PNW in 2016.

“They are visiting in year five to assure that we are following the plan submitted at the time of merger,” said Tom Keon, chancellor .

The visit is getting a lot of attention, but Keon said the general education review is important to the university.  While the general education overhaul is not expected to be finished in time for the HLC visit, it will be a major focus this year.

“General education was reviewed at the time of the merger, but not updated, nor was it viewed as a complete revision,” he said. “A complete update has not been accomplished for many years. … This is long overdue, but the HLC [visit] does bring it to a point of examination.”

As part of PNW’s general education review, the school’s General Education Task Force will host two town hall meetings to explore new general education models, focusing on trends, curricular reform and its significance to inclusion, equity, and social justice. All are welcome: students, staff and faculty. 

“Currently, our core is effective, [but] those courses may not be connected in a unifying theme,” Pelter said. “We’re trying to give students a more informed choice that centers around their interests.”

She envisions changes in the general curriculum that could enable students to explore a certain issue of interest along with a well-rounded general education.

Any program changes would not affect current PNW students, and would begin to take effect with incoming freshman. However, a continuing student may elect to follow the new changes.

A team of peer reviewers will be on campus for three days in April to evaluate whether PNW merits reaffirmation of accreditation. The HLC reviewers will judge the school on five criteria: its mission, commitment to ethical and responsible conduct, quality of instruction, commitment to evaluation, and improvement and resources.

“It’s something we take pretty seriously,” said Chris Holford, the school’s new provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “It’s time for us to open our books to peers from other sorts of educational institutions and undergo a review.”

In addition to the weight it carries to earn a degree from an accredited, nationally recognized school, accreditation ensures the federal government will allow eligible students to receive financial aid.

“For us, a number of our students are from modest homes and can get federal aid to go to the university.  It’s really very significant that we are approved,” Keon said.

Founded in 1895, the HLC accredits colleges and universities in a 19-state region. Purdue University Northwest is accredited at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels.