FHSU earns official stamp of approval from accrediting agency under innovative program for continuous improvement

HAYS, KS -- Fort Hays State University has received notice that its accreditation has been renewed by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools under a new format, called the Academic Quality Improvement Project, that is designed to support, encourage and recognize institutions for their continuous improvement efforts and accomplishments.

"Accreditation is important because it is used to assure students and the public-at-large that a university meets established standards or learning and allows educational institutions to accept grades, courses and degrees from other universities with the assurance that they have met the same standards of quality," said Dr. Larry Gould, FHSU provost. "Accreditation is a form of accountability that allows a level of trust among institutions that would be missing otherwise."

The renewal of accreditation by the North Central Association under AQIP extends to the 2007-2008 academic year. During the intervening years, FHSU will participate first in a Strategy Forum, a comprehensive Quality Review three years later, and then another cycle of Strategy Forum and Quality Review after that. Under AQIP, FHSU commits to "a systematic initiative to improve continuously its academic and related processes and their results" and "to provide AQIP with regular information and evidence of Fort Hays State University's systematic efforts and accomplishments in continuous academic quality improvement."

"Under the traditional accreditation system, universities undergo a lengthy review process every 10 years that basically determines that they have not fallen below certain minimum performance standards," said Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president. "AQIP takes an entirely different approach. It identifies areas for improvement and sets measurable goals on a continuing basis. In that way, the accreditation process becomes a useful tool for promoting improvements in academic performance."

FHSU was one of only 14 universities and community colleges accepted as charter participants in AQIP. The other schools are Alexandria Technical College and Capella University, both in Minnesota, Eastern Iowa Community College District, Eastern New Mexico University, Glen Oaks Community College and Gogebic Community College, both in Michigan, Iowa Valley Community College District, Kent State University and Terra Community College, both in Ohio, Lakeshore Technical College in Wisconsin, Mid Michigan Community College, New Mexico State University, and Western Wisconsin Technical College.

In a written announcement, the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools said: "Fort Hays State University's commitment to continuous improvement places it among a group of institutions that have voluntarily applied to and been selected to participate in AQIP's alternative accreditation process. Moving beyond the boundaries of traditional accreditation, the AQIP model is designed to align accreditation with an institution's program of continuous quality improvement in order to meet the rapidly shifting needs of educational institutions in the 21st century."

Gould and Dr. Rob Scott, assistant to the provost for institutional effectiveness, led a comprehensive self-assessment of FHSU and documented the university's ongoing efforts to improve its academic and administrative processes. They presented FHSU's application for AQIP in early September.

"I commend Provost Gould and Dr. Scott for their leadership in preparing FHSU's application for AQIP," the president added. "It is a great honor for our university to be accepted into this innovative program by the AQIP Application Review Panel."

In his letter to Dr. Hammond announcing the accreditation renewal, AQIP Director Stephen D. Spangehl wrote: "Crafting a new accreditation process, and a new relationship between member colleges and universities and their accrediting agency, is no small challenge. We will make mistakes, and we count on you to call our attention to them, quickly and frankly. We welcome your suggestions on ways to make what we do more valuable to your institution and your advice on essential information and services to which we might help you get access."

Gould characterized AQIP as a trailblazing endeavor that will energize the FHSU faculty and administration. He said he had already heard many comments of support for the effort. "The traditional accreditation process is important but tedious," he said. "Our faculty know that AQIP creates an opportunity to approach accreditation from a fresh perspective that will lead to significant improvements. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but AQIP should prove to be exciting and highly productive."

The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools is one of six regional institutional accrediting associations in the United States. The purpose of the association is the development and maintenance of high standards of excellence for universities, colleges and schools, the continued improvement of the education program and effectiveness of instruction on elementary, secondary, and college levels through a scientific and professional approach to the solution of educational problems. It also helps to establish cooperative relationships between the schools and colleges and universities within the territory of the association, and the maintenance of effective working relationships with other educational organizations and accrediting agencies.

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