This Monday, Nov. 9, and Tuesday, Nov. 10, the Higher Learning Commission will send three peer reviewers to Macalester as part of the accreditation process. The reviewers, all high-ranking staff from Associated Colleges of the Midwest who underwent HLC training, will arrive on campus on Monday morning, and leave on Tuesday at noon.
The HLC’s last comprehensive evaluation of Macalester was in 2006. This year’s visit is unusually short; last time reviewers visited campus for two full days, rather than a day and a half. However, there will also be a “distance review” in 2020, at which point the HLC will evaluate Macalester from Chicago. Peer reviewers will visit again in 2026.
Because of the brevity of their visit, the reviewers will be writing their evaluation mostly based on information from the college’s assurance argument, a 35,000-word document which Macalester is required to submit to the HLC. Pamela Larson, the secretary to Karine Moe, emailed a draft of the argument to the Macalester community on Sep. 22, with the request that feedback be sent through an attached Google form. A survey from Institutional Research asking for anonymous feedback about student experiences was also sent out on Labor Day, and data will be provided to the peer reviewers.
According to a draft schedule provided by Patrick Schmidt, chair of the political science department, who researched and wrote a large portion of the assurance argument, the HLC visit will consist mostly of meetings regarding “areas of focus.” For example, a meeting about how Macalester has been managing Title IX would include staff such as Title IX Director Karla Benson Rutten.
The reviewers will be evaluating Macalester on the HLC’s five main criteria, which are 1) Mission; 2) Integrity; 3) Teaching and Learning: Quality, Resources, and Support; 4) Teaching and Learning: Evaluation and Improvement; and 5) Resources, Planning, and Institutional Effectiveness. The first two criteria will be discussed in an open forum on Monday morning. The second open forum, in the early evening, will discuss the next two criteria, and the fifth criterion will be discussed the following morning. The reviewers will have one “drop-in session” afterwards, on Tuesday, for any community members who would prefer to speak privately.
The reviewers are AVP for Analytics and Institutional Research at Grinnell College, Randall J. Stiles, the chair of the group; Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning Resources at Monmouth College, Frank Gersich; and Dean of the College, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Professor of English at Knox College, Laura L. Behling. According to Schmidt, they are permitted to ask any question of anyone on campus.
Schmidt, Provost Karine Moe and Dean of Associate Faculty Kendrick Brown all cited techniques of assessment—specifically of student learning—as the component that Macalester had developed the most since the last accreditation process.
“It was clear that we needed to take some pretty dramatic steps,” Schmidt said, “and we did that, beginning in about 2008 or so.”
Both Schmidt and Moe attributed much of the change in assessment to Brown.
“The piece that was very important for us was making sure that we had an understanding of learning across the campus, so faculty and staff as well as student affairs really paying attention to the goals students are accomplishing by the time they graduate,” Brown said. According to Brown, every academic department has developed a plan for assessment of student learning, and student affairs has been developing assessment plans for each of its offices.
One major outcome of this assessment is Macalester’s Statement on Student Learning, outlined in a brochure titled “6 Steps to Educational Success”: “1. You will demonstrate intellectual depth and breadth; 2. You will think critically and analyze effectively; 3. You will communicate effectively. You will demonstrate intercultural knowledge and competence; 5. You will make informed choices and accept responsibility; 6. You will engage with the community.”
Another example is the assessment “U.S. Multiculturalism” requirement, which is now the “U.S. Identities and Differences” general education requirement. “Through that assessment, we asked ourselves questions about what kind of knowledge, what kind of skills, did students want to have by the time they graduate?” Moe said. “And looking through student work, we ended up saying, ‘Really a lot of this is about critical thinking . . . we want students to look critically at diversity and diversity issues.’”
Schmidt said that this assessment led to the further incorporation of co-curricular programs, such as those in Department of Multicultural Life, into student learning.
Apart from assessment techniques, Administration is focusing on incorporating elements of the Strategic Plan. For Moe, this includes the development of issue-based education, academic concentrations, and the emphasis on entrepreneurship; the diversifying of faculty, in part through the hiring of a Dean of Faculty Diversity; Internationalism; and the hiring of a new Career Development Center director. When asked about efforts to diversify the student body, Brown and Moe emphasized that such an effort, like all efforts included in the Strategic Plan, would include the work of employment services, admissions and faculty diversity.
Moe stated that she is proud of how mission-driven the college is, and that she has also heard praise for this aspect of the college when on other campuses. “I think it’s not common for colleges to have this mission be such an integral part of the everyday institution. And I think that the accreditors will come away with a good sense that we are mission-driven.”