University accreditation process kicks off

When John Benson, M.D., reads the criteria on which UNMC's accreditation application will be judged, he can't help but note the similarities to UNMC's strategic plan.

"There's a striking congruence between the goals of UNMC and the philosophy of accreditation. It's almost uncanny," said Dr. Benson, a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine. "This means that this process should really benefit UNMC."

The process of which Dr. Benson speaks is the self-evaluation the campus will undertake over the next 1 1/2years, in hopes of receiving a full, 10-year re-accreditation. The comprehensive self-study will be summarized in a report to the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Also as part of the accreditation process, the commission will send a team to UNMC in January 2007 to evaluate the campus and to speak with faculty, students and staff. UNMC will find out later that year whether it will receive continuing accreditation.

Institutional accreditation is important to UNMC for several reasons, including allowing UNMC to maintain its eligibility for federal student financial aid programs. The institutional accreditation process is separate from the specialized accreditation processes that UNMC colleges, the hospital, continuing education, professional programs and residencies undergo, Dr. Benson said.

UNMC's accreditation will be judged on five criteria and several "core components" of those criteria. Generally, the criteria involve:

  • UNMC's mission and integrity;
  • its focus on the future;
  • its student learning and effective teaching;
  • its research enterprise; and
  • its community service.

Since the beginning of this year, Dr. Benson has led an executive committee to plan for and to kick-start UNMC's accreditation efforts. The other members of the committee are John Adams, Ph.D., assistant vice chancellor for budget and strategic planning; David Crouse, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for academic affairs; and Mary Helms, associate director of the McGoogan Library.

Executive committee members attended the NCA's annual meeting in Chicago in April to receive guidance about the self-study and evaluation processes and to exchange information and ideas with people in other organizations who are or have recently been engaged in self-study. While they found several institutions with pieces that could be modeled, UNMC may be unique because, apparently, it is the NCA region's only free-standing comprehensive academic health science center.

"The language of the report will tell UNMC's story, and I think we've got a good one to tell, a prototypic one," Dr. Benson said.

At the NCA meeting, the executive committee learned that four integrating themes -future-oriented, learning-centered, connectivity to the community, and distinctiveness - should cut across the entire UNMC report, Dr. Benson said.

Already, more than 100 faculty, staff and students are involved in the accreditation process. Most are members of six task forces that will work in the areas of mission, governance, planning, learning, research and service. These task forces have begun to look at UNMC's assets and needs in these areas and will submit reports that will be weaved into the submission to the NCA.

Other staff are members of three support teams in information technology, communications and campus data. Much of the work of the Resource (Data) Team, headed by Jeanne Ferbrache, will take place over the next few months. During that time, the team will assemble institutional data that all task forces will use as they complete their reports. That data will be made available through a virtual or computerized resource center that is being developed for ongoing use.

Along with the data, paper documents such as mission statements, organization charts, educational objectives and curricula will also be housed in a physical resource center.