February 4, 2016
To: The Honorable Governor Rauner
Senate President Cullerton
Senate Minority Leader Radogno
House Speaker Madigan
House Minority Leader Durkin
Members of the General Assembly
I am writing on behalf of the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the regional accrediting agency for nineteen states, including Illinois. HLC is recognized by the United States Department of Education to assure quality in higher education and to serve as the gatekeeper to federal financial aid for students in our region.
As your role in Illinois includes consequential decisions regarding the governance and funding for colleges and universities, I am notifying you of the potential accreditation outcomes that may result from not approving a budget that will provide funding to Illinois colleges and universities and their students.
A criterion for accreditation is demonstration of the availability of financial, physical, and human resources necessary to provide quality higher education. HLC is aware that the colleges and universities in Illinois may need to suspend operations because financial resources from the state are not available. HLC is obligated to move swiftly to protect Illinois students and to ensure the quality of the colleges and universities they attend.
Following federal regulations, HLC has notified all Illinois colleges and universities that if they believe they will have to suspend operations or close in the next several months, they must provide HLC with a plan for how students can continue at another college or university to avoid eliminating their access to higher education. For students to continue at another institution, it could mean having to transfer to private universities or leave the state. It is also probable some students may drop out of college. The plan also must explain how students will be informed about this urgent situation, including how they access transcripts if operations have been suspended due to lack of state funding.
HLC’s analysis of that plan about the college or university’s viability in the weeks ahead could result in 1) a review of the college or university’s compliance with HLC’s Criteria for Accreditation, 2) a sanction – in which the college or university would have two years or fewer to demonstrate corrective action, or 3) withdrawal of accreditation. After such a withdrawal, there is a multi-year process for institutions to regain status with an accrediting agency. Students attending institutions that do not have status with an accrediting agency recognized by the federal government cannot access federal financial aid.
I served as a college president at two institutions in Ohio and know it is critical for state leadership to have every fact and potential outcome available. The lack of state funding is putting Illinois colleges and universities at serious risk and jeopardizing the future of students. I recognize the pain of budget shortfalls, especially in our home state of Illinois. The economic challenges the state faces are significant, and difficult decisions undoubtedly must be made. I am writing because I believe it is important for you to have all the relevant information before making the tough decisions that fall to your positions.
As you struggle with these difficult and life-changing decisions, if you have questions about the role of accreditation, please contact me.
Barbara Gellman-Danley, Ph.D.
President, Higher Learning Commission