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V6I3: NWCCU Policy Updates

Heather Bennett, Vice President for Institutional Innovations and Compliance, NWCCU 

The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) has updated its Bylaws and nine Policies to reflect NWCCU’s practice and its compliance with the U.S. Department of Education’s Accreditation Handbook. Information on these revisions was provided to the institutional Accreditation Liaison Officers (ALO) during the Townhall conversation on February 23, 2024.  

The revised documents are linked below with a summary of changes to each and the impact on  NWCCU member institutions.

NWCCU Bylaws 

Changes:  

  • Updated NWCCU’s Scope of Recognition as approved by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE).   These changes identify NWCCU’s geographic area of accrediting activities as “throughout the United States” in lieu of “regional;” adds “correspondence education” and the Executive Committee as a decision-making body. 
  • Clarified the required make-up of the Commission, including the number of public representatives; identified the members of the Executive Committee; clarified that the Vice Chair assumes the role of Chair upon vacancy; established the Immediate Past Chair as the chair of the Nominating Committee; clarified the role of the Finance Committee; and clarified that the Commission may meet via videoconference. 

Impact: Correspondence education was not previously in NWCCU’s scope. Institutions with programs offered via correspondence should submit these to NWCCU for approval to bring them under institutional accreditation. Additional Policy and Substantive Change procedures related to correspondence education are forthcoming. 

Accreditation Actions Policy 

Changes: Clarified sections as required by USDE, including the definition of adverse actions. 

Impact: This Policy lists the various accreditation actions, including sanctions and adverse actions. The ALO and President should understand the implications of each possible accreditation action and the procedures associated with sanctions and adverse actions. 

Arbitration Policy 

Changes: Changed from using an internally-managed roster of arbitrators from which a Board of Arbitrators would be co-selected by the institution and NWCCU to using a single arbitrator from JAMS (Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services). Additionally, clarified that this Policy applies to initial arbitration, which does not limit potential future litigation. 

Impact: This Policy establishes procedure for member institutions that exhaust the Appeals process following an adverse action. Changes have no immediate institutional impact. 

Communication with Accreditation Constituencies and Title IV Oversight Policy 

Changes: Changed from calendar days to business days for NWCCU notification to the Secretary to align with Federal regulation. 

Impact: This Policy describes the types of information NWCCU shares about its member institutions with various constituencies, including its institutions, the public, and other members of the Regulatory Triad,  and includes procedures for maintaining confidentiality. Changes have no immediate institutional impact. 

Complaints Against NWCCU Policy 

Changes: Clarified the process of the review and adjusted the timeline to align with other policies related to complaints. 

Impact: This policy describes the process and timetable for complaints against NWCCU related to its lack of compliance instituting Eligibility Requirements, Standards for Accreditation, Policies, published procedures, or Federal regulations. The ALO and institution should understand this process and timetable. 

Complaints Regarding Member or Candidate Institutions Policy 

Changes: Clarified the process of the review and adjusted the timeline to align with other policies related to complaints. 

Impact: The ALO and institution should understand the process and timetable required by this Policy when a complaint is filed against their institution. 

Personally Identifiable Information Policy 

Changes: Significantly updated the list of personally identifiable information. 

Impact: ALOs and institutions should review what types of information are considered personally identifiable information and should be redacted (in most cases) when communicated to NWCCU. 

Procedures to Close a Program, Branch Campus, or Institution Policy 

Changes: Noted NWCCU’s authority to waive requirements regarding the percentage of credits that must be earned at an institution in the context of teach-out per USDE regulation. 

Impact: This policy impacts both sending and receiving institutions involved in a teach-out. 

Receipt of Unsolicited Information Policy 

Changes: Clarified the process of the review and adjusted the timeline to align with other policies related to complaints. Added that NWCCU must respond to an adverse accreditation action by another recognized accreditor. 

Impact: If NWCCU is notified by a programmatic accreditor of an adverse accreditation action (e.g., probation, show cause, loss of accreditation) against an institution, NWCCU will seek information on the impact of the adverse action and plans for an institutional response. The Commission will determine the potential impact of the adverse action on the institution’s institutional accreditation. 

Substantive Change Policy 

Changes: Clarified the timelines for substantive change review and the qualifications of reviewers in compliance with updated Federal requirements. 

Impact: The ALO and institution should review this policy to ensure compliance by developing strong internal systems for receiving approval of substantive changes prior to advertising or implementing changes as required. 

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