The Open Pathway seeks to achieve the following goals.
- To enhance institutional value by opening the improvement aspect of accreditation so that institutions may choose Quality Initiatives to suit their current circumstances
- To reduce the reporting burden on institutions by utilizing as much information and data as possible from existing institutional processes and collecting them in electronic form as they naturally occur over time
- To enhance rigor by checking institutional data annually (Institutional Update) and conducting Assurance Reviews twice in the ten-year cycle
- To integrate as much as possible all HLC processes and HLC requests for data into the reaffirmation of accreditation cycle
Assurance and Improvement in the Open Pathway
The Open Pathway separates the continued accreditation process into two components: the Assurance Review and the Quality Initiative.
- Two Assurance Reviews take place in the ten-year cycle; one in Year 4 and one in Year 10. The Year 4 review occurs asynchronously through the Commission’s online Assurance System and without a visit. The Year 10 review also is conducted with the Assurance System but includes a visit to the campus, as noted below. No change requests may be combined with the Year 4 review; all change requests at Year 4 are evaluated separately through the Commission’s change process.
- Between Years 5 and 9 of the ten-year cycle, the institution proposes and completes a Quality Initiative. The Assurance Reviews free the Quality Initiative to focus on institutional innovation and improvement. The institution undertakes a Quality Initiative as something it elects to suit its own purposes. Its timeframe is flexible to accommodate the amount of time necessary to complete or make substantial progress toward completion.
- In Year 10, the institution undergoes a comprehensive evaluation.
The Assurance Review
In preparation for the Assurance Review, an institution develops an Assurance Argument that has links to materials in an Evidence File.
The Assurance Argument
The Assurance Argument is organized by the Criteria and their Core Components.
For each Criterion, the institution offers:
- a Criterion introduction
- an articulation of how each Core Component within the Criterion is met, including a statement of future plans with regard to the Core Component, and, if applicable, an explanation of circumstances that (1) call for improvement, (2) support future improvement, or (3) constrain improvement or threaten the institution’s ability to sustain the Core Component
- a statement regarding any additional ways in which the institution fulfills the Criterion that are not otherwise covered in the statements on the Core Components, including any gaps in achievement and future plans with regard to the Criterion
- links to materials in the institution’s Evidence File for each statement made (maximum limit of 35,000 words).
The Evidence File
Within the Assurance System, an institution’s Evidence File comprises two sections. In section one, the Commission contributes recent comprehensive evaluation and interim reports, a trend summary from the institution’s most recent Institutional Update submissions, copies of official actions and correspondence, public comments, and any other information the Commission deems necessary.
In section two of the Evidence File, the institution uploads its own evidentiary materials that, together with its Assurance Argument, demonstrate that it meets the Criteria for Accreditation. To the extent possible, an institution is encouraged to use existing materials as evidence rather than create new materials exclusively for the accreditation process. Examples of such evidence include existing mission statements, budget documents, assessment and curriculum reports, minutes from meetings of governing boards and other prominent committees, and materials submitted to and received from specialized accreditation organizations and state agencies.
The Quality Initiative
The Open Pathway requires the institution to undertake a major Quality Initiative designed to suit its present concerns or aspirations. The Commission assumes that strong institutions are continuously engaged in improvement, without guidance from the Commission. It asks the institution to select one major improvement project that meets its current needs or aspirations and to designate that project as its Quality Initiative.
The Quality Initiative takes place between Years 5 and 9 of the 10-year Open Pathway cycle. A Quality Initiative may be designed to begin and be completed during this time or it may continue an initiative already in progress or achieve a key milestone in the work of a longer initiative. The Quality Initiative must have scope and significance but there is no requirement that it encompass an entire institution. The Quality Initiative is intended to allow institutions to take risks, aim high, and if so be it, learn from only partial success or even failure.
A comprehensive evaluation takes place in Year 10 of the ten-year Open Pathway accreditation cycle. The components of the comprehensive evaluation in the Open Pathway are these:
- An Assurance Review
- A review of Federal Compliance
- An on-site visit
In the comprehensive evaluation, peer reviewers determine whether the institution continues to meet the Criteria for Accreditation by analyzing the institution’s Assurance Filing (Assurance Argument and Evidence File); a preliminary analysis is followed by a campus visit. The purposes of the visit are to validate claims made in the institution’s Assurance Filing and to compare those materials with what the team finds during planned activities while on site.
Here is the complete Open Pathways booklet: