The college got generally positive reviews in a recent accreditation report. The seven-year accreditation process features visits by a team of evaluators from other colleges and universities, plus an extensive report created by Highline and submitted to the evaluators. The bottom line is whether Highline is successfully doing what the college claims to be doing.
The evaluators virtually visited campus via Zoom on Oct. 19 and 20, talking with groups of administrators, faculty, staff and students. The evaluation team shared their recommendations and commendations on Oct. 21.
The evalutators praised Highlinefor its efforts around equity and was instructed to develop a new strategic plan, said Highline President Dr. John Mosby.
“Even though it’s every seven years, accreditation gives us an opportunity to do constant evaluation of what we’re doing in regards to our efforts,” Dr. Mosby said.
“Accreditation makes sure that the institution is maintaining standards for serving students. To get accreditation means that you’re recognized in higher education as a place that offers degrees,” he said. “It’s just making sure that we as an institution are adhering to the standards we have set forth, [such as] our mission, values, and goals. Basically making sure that we practice what we preach.”
Prior to the visit, Highline’s accreditation steering committee wrote a report providing evidence that the college is meeting standards that the accreditation commission set. The visiting accreditation commission reviews the report along with meeting campus community members to verify the given information, Dr. Mosby said.
“The process was similar to our last visit, where evaluators looked carefully for evidence that our college has the assets it needs to provide quality education,” said Lisa Bernhagen, English professor and chair of the accreditation steering committee.
Bernhagen led the Highline committee for six years, while also assisting the executive cabinet present the work in the report.
“It was my pleasure to organize Highline faculty and staff to bring their expertise to focus on accreditation needs and to draft the year seven self-study accreditation report,” Bernhagen said.
“The accreditation steering committee gathered stories of the improvements and successes of various departments so we could report the amazing work in all divisions of the college to support student success,” she said.
Dr. Mosby compared the process to writing a paper and including references for it.
“They [the accreditation steering committee] also have discussions about how they feel they’ve met those goals, or if they haven’t met those goals, what do they think they can do to meet those goals in the future,” Dr. Mosby said.
“To keep accreditation means you have financial aid, so if a college loses their accreditation, they lose the ability to give financial aid,” he said. “At an institution like Highline, where so many students are on aid, it basically shuts down your campus.”
The accreditation commission returns its own report to the college, summarizing its findings and making recommendations about what else the college might need to do, as well as acknowledging what the college is doing right, Dr. Mosby said.
The college was commended on its work around equity, transparency and communications, and support regarding assessment, budget, and COVID-19 response.
“We were commended for a lot things but they focused on three particular areas,” Dr. Mosby said. “We were commended for executing reorganization in academic and student affairs that elevated the integration of instruction and student services for noncredit students and community members that experience the greatest barriers to education.”
They liked Highline’s report as well.
“The accreditation evaluators commended the clarity and honesty of the report, the incredible devotion that employees have for our community in and around Highline, and the way all divisions put student success first,” Lisa Bernhagen added.
“Assessment of student learning was commended, as well as the executive cabinet’s clear vision of our work ahead to be inclusive and clear in budget planning and strategic planning,” she said. “Similar to last visit, they found that evidence, and they found a warm, welcoming group of faculty, students, and staff who are passionate about student success. Highline has a tradition of impressing accreditation evaluators.”
In addition to receiving commendations, the accreditation commission recommends specific areas the college can improve on.
“They recommended that we continue to develop systems of data collection, and use data for planning. They also recommended that we continue to develop emerging systems of assessment,” Dr. Mosby said.
“The last one was to update our strategic plan,” he said. “We knew that it was going to be the outdated strategic plan because what we didn’t want to do is start creating a new plan when we haven’t had our accreditation visit. … We knew that these would probably be recommendations, so we’ve already started working on them.”
Highline’s strategic plan, which revolves around the college’s core themes, was last reviewed by the Board of Trustees in 2018. A detailed report on the plan is available under Highline’s About Us page.
“I didn’t want to have multiple plans going on at the same time that was going to confuse the campus, and therefore confuse the team. So we let the team know that we would be, after the visit, starting to work on our new plan,” Dr. Mosby said.
Creating a new strategic plan for the college will be a great opportunity in order to better involve the campus as a whole, by engaging students, staff, and faculty to be a part of the planning, Dr. Mosby said.
“We need to really ask ourselves who does Highline College want to be? And what are our needs for our students, staff and faculty?” he asked. “So we will be engaging our students in answering those questions in different formats in the next year. That information will be coming out of the president’s office.”
In addition to participating in student forums, students were involved in the accreditation process by providing information needed for the report that the accreditation commission reviews, Dr. Mosby said.
“Student got to participate with testimonials and then students provided data and information to our faculty and staff that helped us write the document,” he said. “Students played a major role, they might not know to what extent the role they played, but their experiences provided us with data to create the report.”
Dr. Mosby said he was happy with the level of participation of students, staff, and faculty, especially with having to make virtual accommodations.
“I was pleased with it, but nothing beats face-to-face. We weren’t able to do that at this time.
“In this virtual format I think they might’ve actually had more involvement than if we would’ve been face-to-face so that was a pleasant surprise,” Dr. Mosby said.
The president said that Highline has been able to achieve all this despite a lot of turnover at the top.
“Highline College in the past few years has went through significant transition at the administrative executive level. I’m starting my third year as president and the majority of the members on my executive cabinet are new,” Dr. Mosby said.
Committee members such as Vice President of Instruction Dr. Emily Lardner and Vice President of Institutional Advancement Josh Gerstman have been at Highline for less than three years, he said.
“We’ve had a lot of new deans, new faculty, new staff, so there’s a lot of new folks at the college in the past few years,” said Dr. Mosby.
“With a lot of change, how does an institution still move forward and meet the mission of the college? In our report we talked about the transition, the new goals, transparency, leadership, and we gave examples of how to engage the campus to really continue hearing the voice of folks,” he said.
Working with Highline’s accreditation committee was unlike working with committees from other colleges, Dr. Mosby said.
“In all my years of working, especially at the last two colleges I’ve worked at prior to Highline, it was very different. [At Highline] It was just well organized and there wasn’t panic,” Dr. Mosby said.
“It was just like, ‘We’re gonna work, we’re gonna do it, it’s hard work, but we’re gonna get it done,’” he said.
“Often when panic sets in, then things get a little chaotic, and it was not chaotic. That’s something I’ve never experienced in any other place before,” he said.
“The accreditation team on campus was just organized, I felt informed every step of the way. I’ve felt informed since I got here over two years ago, about any questions or concerns,” he said.
“The team is very clear and transparent, I think they felt they were very clear with the campus,” Dr. Mosby said. “I would say that this is the best accreditation I’ve participated in because of the organization of the college.”