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Bethel receives final notice from accrediting body, avoids probation

December 5th, 2019

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The Higher Learning Commission has made a ruling of “Accreditation-On Notice” at the conclusion of Bethel's regular every-10-years accreditation process.

College administrators had been informed earlier this year, after the peer review team’s site visit in May, that the team’s recommendation would be for probation. “On Notice” represents an important shift.

In either case, the college remains accredited. Credits from Bethel will be accepted for transfer or for graduate programs, and financial aid will continue to be dispersed.

Bethel has been accredited by the HLC since 1938, with reaffirmation of accreditation occurring every 10 years since then.

In order to achieve reaffirmation of accreditation, an institution must successfully meet five “Criteria for Education,” by meeting every “core component” that falls under each criterion.

During the routine 10-year reaffirmation of accreditation process in May 2019, the peer review team flagged one core component under Criterion 4, having to do with assessment, and two under Criterion 5, regarding the college’s annual operating budgets and financial position. 

As a result, two committees within the HLC recommended that Bethel College be placed on probation, with the official HLC ruling on the final determination of probation to be announced in November 2019. That announcement, of Accreditation-On Notice, came Nov. 22.

The three core components are now “met with concerns” (rather than “not met”), which moves the college away from probation status.

On Notice has “some big differences from probation,” noted Robert Milliman, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs.

The college can now apply for “substantive changes [for example, adding a major], although subject to strict scrutiny,” he said.

“We are now faced with an evaluation visit in 2021 based only on the core components ‘met with concerns,’ instead of a full-fledged comprehensive visit in which all of the core components would have once again been in play. And we are back on the regular ‘Standard Pathway’ schedule for comprehensive evaluations, with the next visit slated for 2023-24.”

The report that went to the HLC earlier this fall reflected hard work by Bethel administration, faculty and Board of Directors to define performance benchmarks that will keep tabs on the college’s financial health, with the goal of achieving a balanced operating budget in FY 2021 with no supplemental endowment draws. 

Bethel must show by Feb. 1, 2021, that it has remedied the issues that led to the On Notice sanction, in preparation for HLC’s on-site evaluation, to take place no later than April 2021.

“In sum, while relieved we were not placed on probation, we take this sanction of On Notice seriously and have begun to aggressively address the concerns expressed by the HLC,” Milliman said. “We are confident that we already have taken the right steps and will achieve a satisfactory outcome.

“Bethel College has been and remains an excellent place to receive a top-notch liberal arts education with a variety of outstanding professional program options.”

In November 2021, the HLC Board of Trustees will determine whether Bethel College has demonstrated that it is no longer at risk of being out of compliance with the Criteria for Accreditation, and whether On Notice can be removed.

Bethel continues to focus on its new mission, vision and values statements (adopted by the board at its spring 2019 meeting), significant alumni support, and dedicated faculty delivering relevant programs. 

Bethel also recently embarked on a capital campaign, “Engage the Future,” that has at its center the college’s academic, physical and mental, and financial health. 

The campaign goals are a fitness and wellness center, academic program enhancements and technology upgrades to assist in recruiting, retaining and graduating students.

“We believe our academic program, athletic offerings, dedication to our student-centered mission and vision, and enhanced fiscal discipline will allow Bethel graduates to flourish in society for years to come,” said Bethel president Jon Gering. 

“The Board of Directors, administrative cabinet, and faculty and staff took preemptive actions to address the concerns of the HLC,” he added. “I want to thank them for their vision and commitment to the college. I also want to thank alumni and donors for their continued support of the college.”

Bethel College, a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887, is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel is the only Kansas private college listed in Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section for 2018-19 and U.S. News & World Report’s Best National Liberal Arts Colleges 2018. Bethel is the highest ranked Kansas small college with the highest earning graduates according to career-resources site Zippia.com. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.