The invisible side of education

Why you should care about accreditation at Union College

Emy Wood

What do transferable credits, educational accountability, graduate school opportunities, bright employment prospects and federal financial assistance all have in common? They all require accreditation.

Students rarely think about the inner workings of their institution and how claims about a “quality education” are actually substantiated, yet this pivotal process is the primary characteristic that distinguishes college graduates from people who just know a lot of stuff. If Union were not accredited, you could not get government financial aid or obtain national or state licensure (I’m talking to you, nursing, PA, education, and EMT students), and your graduate school of choice probably wouldn’t care that you simultaneously managed three clubs and two internships while acing every test.

So how can these external parties be sure your courses were hard enough and your grade means more than a letter of the alphabet?

The Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the regional accrediting body for the north central states, monitors Union’s actions and improvements to ensure that the college offers enough services, advertises honestly and provides high quality instruction. With the HLC’s seal of approval—otherwise called accreditation—external universities and organizations know they can trust Union’s claims.


But why should students care? Because it’s not a stagnant process—adjustments and improvements in educational services are continuously being made for you.

Last year Union switched its accreditation pathway to an Academic Quality Improvement program (AQIP). “This change means that instead of just waiting seven-plus years for an accreditation team to evaluate what we’re doing and give us feedback, we’re actively evaluating ourselves,” said Joellyn Sheehy, 2014 graduate and AQIP systems portfolio coordinator.  

In conjunction with this new pathway, last year the General Education Committee revised and approved new educational goals for Union graduates. “Previously, we had statements on mission, vision and values, but those are not very specific,” said Malcolm Russell, vice president for academic administration. “We now have a statement of educational goals that identifies the desired areas of student proficiency.”

These 10 targets are essentially the core abilities that faculty and administrators expect all Union students to acquire, such as to communicate effectively, discern one’s calling and demonstrate ability in a chosen discipline.

Having identified educational priorities, the next step is to realign every academic program with the new goals. “The idea is to make learning more integrated, specific and streamlined,” said Sheehy. “Students are all here to learn, but what is it exactly they should be taught?”

“I think these changes will result in better teaching, greater purpose for courses, and in some cases, less variation between sections,” said Russell.

The feature will also offer more clarity to students, as they will know what results to expect from their education. “By better articulating educational expectations on the college and program level, prospective students can review learning outcomes for a proposed program and ask themselves, ‘Is this what I really want?’” said Russell.

These changes are the beginning of a longer project that will also develop updated assessment measures for student learning and revise general education requirements. “At Union we are quite general-education rich,” said Russell. “Our liberal arts background values exposure to many disciplines. While changes won’t be anything extreme, we do need to reduce requirements.” Fewer LEAD requirements could enable students to take more elective courses and pursue minors.

“Union faculty and administrators are focused on providing students with opportunities for the best experience possible,” said Russell. “While these changes might appear irrelevant or even invisible to students, they signify an important transformation and growth in Union’s academics.”

Keep reading the Clocktower in the coming months for more updates on how Academic Administration is jazzing up your educational experience.

Emy is a sophomore studying communication.