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Comments, anyone? University seeks input for self study

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It only happens about once every 10 years, and "it" is going on here right now.

Begun in 2005, UW-River Falls soon completes a self-study process that campus officials hope will lead to re-accreditation. This includes gathering feedback from people in the community.

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Representatives from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and the Northern Central Association of Schools and Colleges (NCA) visit campus April 21-23 to complete the process that essentially reveals what kind of the job the school does.

"Accreditation says we're actually able to provide an education (and continue to provide)," said Gorden Hedahl, a UW-RF Communication Studies and Theater Arts staff member plus overall NCA Review Coordinator.

"It's real important for the campus...It's a certification of quality."

He said the self study outlines what the university has been doing the past 10 years and what it plans to do for the next 10. UW-RF reviews and refines a draft study then finalizes and submits it to the two agencies to review.

After that a seven-person team visits campus to evaluate it against its submitted report.

"The team looks at the self study then compares it to what they find upon visiting," Hedahl said.

Part of the whole process is getting comments from the university's general public. The input helps the agencies evaluate UW-RF.

Hedahl said, "Public comment is a chance for people who've worked with us to tell the accrediting agency what kind of work we do."

He encourages people to comment about their dealings with the school. Find the full guidelines for commenting at www.uwrf.edu/hlc. See a copy of UW-RF's self-study report at www.uwrf.edu/selfstudy.

Comment instructions say input may come from students, financial supporters, local community, elementary and secondary schools, the state or national community and others like contract partners or employers of UW-RF graduates.

Guidelines say comments should "address substantive matters related to the quality of the institution or its academic program." An online form asks for name, address, e-mail address, city, state, zip code and comments.

It advises people to put in writing and send comments to: Public Comment on UW-River Falls, The Higher Learning Commission, 30 North LaSalle Street, Suite 2400, Chicago, Ill. 60602-2504.

To be considered, comments must arrive at the HLC office no later than March 20.

Hedahl said the seven people coming to evaluate the campus come from a wide range of expertise and from schools of comparable size. He said the team is comprised of individuals from different areas within the multi-state North Central region and from non-UW colleges.

"They know about a university's function," Hedahl said about the team. "They're coming to look and consult and tell what we could be doing better."

He said UW-RF checks its own processes regularly to make sure it's on track, but the accreditation process is important. An institution must be accredited to get many types of federal financial aid and for class credits to transfer to other universities.

UW-RF's Public Affairs Director Mark Kinders said the process involved many teams each taking responsibility for pieces of the study. He said Mayor Don Richards and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rosanne Bump both participated actively.

"They were really helpful in assisting us...," he said.

Accreditation officials can visit more often than every 10 years, but the process happens at least that often. A UW-River Falls press release says the institution has earned re-accreditation each time it's applied since 1935.

"We know that we're doing good work," Hedahl said, "now we'll just have outside people certify it."

Reach Debbie Griffin at dgriffin@rivertowns.net or 426-1048.

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