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Detroit — Wayne State University has vigorously prepared itself to be scrutinized by a team of academics who will be on campus this week as part of the university’s accreditation reaffirmation.

By reflecting on and documenting its mission, vision and values, WSU has been preparing since 2013 to be under the scope of the Higher Learning Commission, the accrediting body that assures the quality of an academic institution through a rigorous process every 10 years.

And WSU is not alone; comprehensive evaluations for accreditation also are underway at four other Michigan universities this month, including Marygrove College in Detroit and Rochester College in Rochester Hills.

“We believe we are well-prepared for the accreditation visit,” said Sandra Yee, WSU dean of the library system and co-chair of the university’s Higher Learning Commission work group. “We have provided not only an argument that proves our quality, but we also have given a substantial body of evidence that gives the assurance argument its basis. So we are looking forward to the visit.”

WSU has been accredited since 1868 and reaffirmed ever since. It is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, one of six institutions in the nation that grants accreditation to higher education institutions. The process is done to assure quality to the public and to the federal government, which awards research funds to scholars and financial aid to students.

There are several parts to the accrediting process, Yee said.

One of them is a quality initiative, an area the university identified as wanting to improve before the team’s visit. In August 2014, WSU selected academic advising as its area to improve. It improved the skills of its 43 advisers and added 46 more to its adviser ranks, bringing the total of 89 advisers. School officials say as result, WSU graduation rates increased from 26 percent in 2011 to more than 39 percent last year, said Monica Brockmeyer, WSU associate provost for student success.

“While (academic advising) was the core of our initiative, we have made many, many more investments in student success over the past five years, across every aspect of the student experience,” Brockmeyer said. “But academic advising was at the core because the relationship that a student has with his or her adviser allows us to assist the student in the most direct, personal, and pro-active kinds of ways ...

“Advisers complement faculty, in helping students learn how to learn. Because the relationship is more personal, students feel encouraged and motivated and they can see how college can help them achieve their dreams. As a result, it's very motivating and students work harder and learn more.”

WSU’s work group, which includes Yee and two other WSU officials, have been preparing for the accreditation process by providing the Higher Learning Commission with several reports, including improvements made on campus with academic advising.

At the heart of the process is a 35,000 word document known as an assurance argument, which outlines why the university’s accreditation should be reaffirmed. The argument includes five criterion, such as the university’s mission, and includes hyperlinks to evidence that supports its argument.

“It really is our chance to tell the Higher Learning Commission what it is we are doing to prove our quality,” Yee said.

The last time that WSU went through the process was in 2007, and the issue that emerged as needed to be improved was assessments of academic programs, Yee said.

This will be the first time Wayne State has gone through the accreditation process since the Higher Learning Commission began a review of its traditional accreditation criteria in 2009. The U.S. Department of Education required the commission to define minimum expectations in each criteria.

While there are no significant changes in the nature of the accreditation, Yee said the changes are a result of more accountability the federal government wants from higher education institutions.

As a result, Yee said the process has been different

“We had to provide evidence that was more specific,” Yee said.

Some may have confused the Higher Learning Commission’s accreditation of the university with the challenges the university addressed in recent years regarding the diversity of the medical school, and other issues, with the Liaison Committee for Medical Education, Yee said. But there are 127 organizations that accredit professional training programs, such as training for physicians or librarians. The Higher Learning Commission accredits the entire university.

Steve Kauffman, spokesman for the Higher Learning Commission, said the university is undergoing the process with a clean slate.

“Nothing is wrong or flagged,” he said.

On Monday and Tuesday, a team of peer reviewers will be on campus meeting with President M. Roy Wilson and his cabinet. The team will also be conducting three open forums for faculty and students on criterion in the university’s assurance argument.

After the peer review team visits, it will put together a report for the Higher Learning Commission’s Institutional Actions Council, which will review it. Yee said it is expected that in May or June, a recommendation will be made to the Board of Governors.

The process also includes student opinion surveys and opinions of outside parties. Signs are everywhere on campus, and students have been getting emails about the accreditation visit and mentions from professors in class.

“It’s hard to miss, there are signs everywhere,” said Niharika Dantuluri, a WSU sophomore from Troy. “I think we’ll perform well. We’re a top school. I love this place. We get research and facilities that no one else gets because we are in an urban area.”

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com

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