Higher Learning Commission Frequenlty Asked Questions

  • What does HLC stand for?

The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) is an independent corporation founded in 1895 as one of six regional institutional accreditors in the United States. HLC accredits degree-granting post-secondary educational institutions in the United States. HLC accredits colleges and universities in the following nineteen states: Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

  • What is accreditation?

The goal of accreditation is to assure students, parents, and employers that a college or university provides a quality educational experience.


  • Is HLC part of the U.S. Department of Education?

HLC is a private, not-for-profit company that the U.S. Department of Education recognizes to act on its behalf as an institutional accrediting agency. Higher education is overseen by the "Triad," which comprises an accrediting body such as HLC, a state's higher education regulatory agency, and the U.S. Department of Education, each with a distinct role in higher education oversight.


  • How is accreditation earned?

Accreditors develop their standards or criteria for accreditation and regularly conduct evaluations to assess whether those criteria are being met. Institutions and/or programs that meet an accreditor's criteria may become "accredited" after a process of evaluation called "candidacy."

  • How often does CCC go through the reaffirmation of the accreditation process?

Every ten years (if there are no significant findings).

  • What does HLC look for when it accredits colleges and universities?

In 2003, the Higher Learning Commission adopted a set of five new criteria for accreditation. These five criteria were revised in February 2019 and became effective on September 1, 2020. The criteria are:

Criterion 1. Mission

Criterion 2. Integrity: Ethical and Responsible Conduct

Criterion 3. Teaching and Learning: Quality, Resources, and Support

Criterion 4. Teaching and Learning: Evaluation and Improvement

Criterion 5. Institutional Effectiveness, Resources, and Planning

For details of each criterion, please see HLC Policy Criteria for Accreditation, Number: CRRT.B.10.010  https://www.hlcommission.org/Policies/criteria-and-core-components.html?highlight=WyJjcml0ZXJpYSIsImNyaXRlcmlhJ3MiXQ== 

  • Why is accreditation important?

Accreditation provides current and potential students assurance that they are receiving a quality education that will be recognized as such by potential employers or licensing boards and by other colleges or universities in case of student transfers or pursuit of a higher degree. Also, employer-paid tuition reimbursement programs often require that employee participants enroll in accredited institutions.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education recognizes accreditation as a marker to allow the institution to disperse federal (Title IV) student financial aid.


  • What exactly is an assurance argument, aka self-study?

The Assurance Argument is a narrative where the institution explains how it meets HLC's Criteria for Accreditation. The self-study process (usually two years or longer) revolves around three critical questions: Are we doing what we say we are doing? Second, what are our strengths and our challenges? Finally, how can we position ourselves for the future?

  • What is meant by "evidence" in the self-study process, and who is responsible for gathering it?

Evidence is any supporting data to be used in the assurance argument: institutional facts and statistics, numbers, records, survey results, expert opinion, examples, explanations, reasoning, predictions, experience, and even history. Evidence is the proof or confirmation that supports a claim as to how well CCC addresses a component of the criterion or section.

All college community members assist Criterion/Section Team Leaders, Executive Team, and editor in data collection, information gathering, and drafting responses to the questions that arise from the HLC criteria for accreditation.

  • What is the difference between accreditation and state licensure?

Many states require an educational institution to be licensed to operate legally. However, this legal requirement is not accreditation, which determines the educational quality provided by the institution.