Articles & Updates

Major Updates to Substantive Change Policy

Jan. 9, 2017 ⋅ Categories: Forms, Policies, Substantive Change

The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities is pleased to provide you with information regarding the updated revisions to both the Commission’s Substantive Change Policy and the processing of substantive change proposals. These revisions adhere to USDE (United States Department of Education) regulations and are consonant with the Commission’s dual purposes of quality assurance and continuous improvement. These revisions are based in part on the thoughtful comments and feedback we have had from colleagues over the past couple of years and are intended to streamline the substantive change process for institutions and enhance the meaningfulness of substantive change at an institution from an accreditation perspective.

In the spirit of continuous improvement and after undertaking a deliberative review of our substantive change procedures, the Commission has determined it is in the best interests of our institutions to implement these revisions effective January 9, 2017.

Please note, for ease of submission, as indicated in the revised Substantive Change Policy, institutions are now required to submit changes to the Commission office electronically through links found on the Commission’s Substantive Change web page.

First, the title of the Commission’s Policy remains Substantive Change due to requisite alignment with USDE regulations. However, to enhance an understanding of the categorization of distinctive types of “substantive changes” and what institutions need to do when various changes occur at one’s institution, the Commission has refined terminology related to types of substantive change. Currently, the Commission’s Policy, Substantive Change, utilizes the terms “substantive” and “minor” to distinguish between changes of significant impact to an institution and changes of minimal impact to an institution. The use of the term “substantive” both in generically referencing the Policy, as well as in categorizing a significant change at an institution, has not been optimum. Accordingly, the more comprehensible terms “major” and “minor” will be used to distinguish between the two categories of changes; one that has significant impact on the institution and the other having minimal impact.

Second, to streamline the process, three changes of minimal impact have been eliminated. As the attached revised Substantive Change Policy indicates, institutions are no longer required to inform the Commission of three types of changes.

The following three types of institutional changes have been eliminated:

– Curriculum revisions which do not significantly affect program outcomes;
– Offerings of a limited time or pilot studies, and;
– Offerings less than one year in length (30 semester credits or 45 quarter credits) offered at an existing location and not significantly different from the offerings in existence at that location.
Finally, in order to maintain alignment with USDE regulations, the Commission has made revisions to the types of changes listed in its policy. Those changes are listed below for your reference.

Minor changes include, but are not limited to, the following:

– Adding existing program(s) of one year (or more) in length to a previously reported and evaluated location where 50% or more of the program requirements are delivered (assuming minimal need for additional resources);
– Adding a degree or certificate program using Competency-Based Education delivery where Competency-Based Education delivery is previously reported and evaluated;
– Adding a new degree program in the same level of accreditation and closely related to fields of study previously reported and evaluated; and/or
– Placing in moratorium, suspending, or terminating a degree program of 30 semester or 45 quarter credits in length.

Major changes include, but are not limited to, the following:

– Changing institutional mission, objectives, and core themes;
– Changing legal status, form of control, ownership, or sponsorship of the institution;
– Adding courses or a degree program at a new degree level not listed for the institution with the NWCCU;
– Establishing a branch campus;
– Acquiring, or merging with, another institution/organization, program or location of another institution;
– Adding courses/program(s) for academic credit outside the NWCCU region;
– Entering into a contractual agreement with a regionally accredited or non-regionally accredited organization to provide courses and program(s) for academic credit on behalf of the candidate or accredited member institution;
– Adding program(s) for academic credit within the NWCCU region in a legal jurisdiction not previously reported and evaluated;
– Establishing an additional location geographically apart (more than 20 miles) from the main campus at which the institution offers at least 50 percent of an education program;
– Adding courses or programs that represent a significant departure from existing offerings of education programs or a significant departure in method of delivery from those that were previously reported and evaluated;
– First time use of a distance delivery infrastructure, or, offering 50% or more to completion of program requirements by distance delivery;
– First time offering of Competency-Based (or direct assessment) Education Programs;
– Adding programs delivered through direct assessment or delivered through a “hybrid” direct assessment approach where not previously reported and evaluated;
– Changing from clock hours to credit hours or vice versa, or a substantial increase or decrease in the length of a program or the number of clock or credit hours awarded for successful completion of a program; and/or
– Adding a permanent location at a site at which the institution is conducting a teach-out for students of another institution that has ceased operating before all students have completed their program of study

Substantive Change web page