HLC report: UM-Dearborn educates students to meet 21st-century challenges

December 11, 2023

For the first time in known university history, the Higher Learning Commission says UM-Dearborn met or exceeded all criteria for reaccreditation without any additional steps needed.

Photos of CECS students in the IAVS

For the first time in known university history, the Higher Learning Commission says UM-Dearborn met or exceeded all criteria for reaccreditation without any additional steps needed. HLC is a federally recognized agency that conducts a comprehensive evaluation of academic institutions. 

The final report, which was shared with the UM-Dearborn HLC Core Committee in late November, is expected to be approved at a 2024 Institutional Actions Council meeting. UM-Dearborn will be up for reaccreditation again in 2033. 

The review findings were based on extensive documentation, interviews with members of the university community, and in-person conversations with stakeholders across the campus. 

“We’ve been accredited through HLC since 1970. If all goes well, there’s a 10-year period before an institution is reevaluated. To my knowledge, this full clean bill of health is the first time it has happened here,” says Associate Provost for Undergraduate Programs and Integrative Learning Mitchel Sollenberger, who led the university’s reaccreditation process. “We’ve always done great things, but much of the strategy or documentation HLC wanted on those earlier visits was non-existent. Looking back through the paper archive in the Provost’s office, we’ve always had additional steps to do. For example, in 1993, we needed to write yearly reports to HLC as a stipulation to maintain accreditation.”

So what changed? Sollenberger, who’s been on the HLC preparation team since the 2013 HLC visit, says faculty and staff have put systems and processes in place over the past decade to capture data, assess programs and document outcomes. “We’ve had many people make great efforts to improve processes even in the face of less-than-ideal circumstances like budgetary constraints, the pandemic and more. Their work helped us get to this point,” he says. “I want to say thank you.”

Also, the HLC reviewers noted that the university went through an intensive strategic planning process starting in 2018. The 60-page final HLC report notes that UM-Dearborn’s direction is guided by the GO BLUEprint for Success Strategic Plan, a university-wide initiative that began with a strength and weakness situational analysis.

While on campus this November, HLC reviewers noticed students building rockets and cars for competitions. They also saw faculty members, assisted by students, working on a variety of research projects. And they talked to students, staff and faculty about community-engaged courses. “The curriculum and co-curriculum at UM-Dearborn educate students to meet 21st-century challenges,” the report states.

HLC reviewers were also impressed by the dedication of faculty and staff to UM-Dearborn’s mission of excellence in teaching, learning, research and scholarship, as well as access, affordability and community impact.

Reviewers singled out the strong culture of community and mutual respect on campus as well. “Caring for everyone in the campus community is central to UM-Dearborn's mission and it was clear from meetings with administration, faculty, staff, and students that they take this very seriously.” One reviewer, when reflecting on the intentional work done to support underserved and underrepresented students, even told administrators that they would like to work at UM-Dearborn.

To demonstrate how UM-Dearborn outcomes match the mission, the HLC report includes these numbers:

  • Due to a financial aid model based on need rather than merit, 90% of students have their financial needs met with no more than $2,000 in loans or work study
  • The four-year completion rate has increased from 22% to 37% in the last four years
  • 24% of faculty received external research funding, and from 2018 to 2022, UM-Dearborn's faculty research awards more than doubled with the federal component rising from 35% to 65%

Director of Academic Success Jess LaGrange, who was on UM-Dearborn’s HLC Core Committee, says she is grateful that an external accreditation agency sees how the campus community works tirelessly to do what’s best for UM-Dearborn students.

The work referenced in the report includes the SURE program, Wolverine Mentor Collective, PALS, Salesforce, transparent financial practices, Degree Works, Dearborn Discovery Core, the START office, career coaching, accessible study abroad opportunities, Dearborn Support, project-based learning courses, the Campus Climate Survey and more. 

“We are doing so much that every day can feel like a sprint. We often don’t have the time to stop and take stock of the great things we are doing,” LaGrange says. “So it is nice to have HLC come in and say, ‘Wow, you are doing a lot of amazing work and here is the impact of these great things. Keep it up. What you are doing matters.’”

HLC Coordination Team members are Sollenberger, LaGrange, Assistant Dean for Assessment and Accreditation Susan Everett, Financial Services Director Noel Hornbacher, Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness Director Rick Michalski and History Professor Pam Pennock. For helping get the systems needed in place, Sollenberger also would like to thank retired provost Kate Davy and former CEHHS associate dean Laura Reynolds.

Article by Sarah Tuxbury