Amber Horn

Mission Possible

As the University prepares for a rigorous re-accreditation, community members are evaluating how St. Kate's lives out its mission.

By Amy Gage

In February 2003, nearly a decade ago, when the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) visited St. Catherine University to evaluate the institution for re-accreditation, the outcome surpassed even the most optimistic expectations.

After reviewing a score of documents and meeting with 32 different groups and individuals — from the president and Board of Trustees to the faculty council and various departmental directors — the HLC evaluation team reported that St. Catherine was "genuinely strategic" and "exemplary in its clarity of mission."

Ten years later, a steering committee of professors, staff members and administrators are preparing for a similar victory when St. Catherine comes up for re-accreditation this coming February.

"This is an opportunity for self-reflection, self-improvement and self-assessment," Senior Vice President Colleen Hegranes told a gathering of faculty and staff at The O'Shaughnessy on August 29. "We need everyone to feel responsibility for the success of this project."

The focus is on an extensive self-study report, "From College to University: Eight Directions to Five Destinations in Ten Years." The title refers to the University's Vision 2020 strategic plan — adopted after St. Catherine became a university in June 2009 — which has eight strategic directions (academic excellence, visibility, resources and more) and five destination metrics.

The 350-page report will be submitted to HLC evaluators in early December. Its primary authors are Brian Fogarty, professor of sociology, and Lynda Szymanski, associate professor of psychology and associate dean of the School of Humanities, Arts and Sciences.

The pair's challenge is to produce a well-researched and readable piece that is part academic research and part narrative. "This is our story of where we've been, where we are now and where we're going," explains Assistant Vice President and Dean Alan Silva, chair of the HLC steering committee. "But it's not just a description. We must evaluate ourselves against the HLC's standards [see 'Criteria,' right], and it's key that we identify how we accomplish and fulfill our mission, where we need to improve and how we will do that."

At the second annual Alumnae Council meeting September 27, Silva told alumnae that they play a crucial role in accreditation — as do all members of the St. Catherine community. He urged alumnae to submit comments about the quality of the University or its academic programs to:

Public Comment on St. Catherine University
The Higher Learning Commission
230 S. LaSalle St., Suite 7-500
Chicago, IL 60604-1411
Comments will be accepted until January 24, 2013.

Re-Accreditation Criteria

In preparation for a re-accreditation site visit by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) in February 2013, St. Catherine University is writing an extensive self-study that must address five criteria:

1. Mission The institution's mission is clear and articulated publicly; it guides the institution's operations.

2. Integrity The institution acts with integrity; its conduct is ethical and responsible.

3. Teaching and Learning: Quality, Resources and Support The institution provides high-quality education, wherever and however its offerings are delivered.

4. Teaching and Learning: Evaluation and Improvement The institution demonstrates responsibility for the quality of its educational programs, learning environments and support services, and it evaluates their effectiveness through processes designed to promote continuous improvement.

5. Resources, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness The institution's resources, structures and processes are sufficient to fulfill its mission, improve the quality of its educational offerings, and respond to future challenges and opportunities. The institution plans for the future.