4 Things You Should Know about the New HLC Faculty Qualifications

You may have heard: the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) revised its guidelines on faculty qualifications, once in October 2015 and again in March 2016. These revisions restated HLC’s “longstanding expectations regarding the qualifications of faculty and the importance of faculty members having appropriate expertise in the subjects they teach.” But what does this really mean for you? And how can you leverage your faculty activity reporting solution to illustrate your faculty’s expertise? Here’s four things you should know about the updated guidelines. 

1) Why the New Requirements Were Implemented

According to HLC, these new guidelines were put into place to ensure institutions employ qualified faculty for the varied and essential roles that faculty members perform. “They seek to ensure that students have access to faculty members who are experts in the subject matter they teach and who can effectively communicate knowledge in that subject to their students. When an institution indicates that a faculty member is qualified by means of an order of employment, it is asserting its confidence in the faculty member’s content expertise along with the ability of the faculty member to help position students for success not only in a particular class, but also in their academic program and their careers after they have completed their program.”1

Faculty qualifications are important for HLC accreditation, but also for upholding your university mission. As an institution you want to confirm that the right faculty are assigned to the right courses as standard practice (outside of the peer review process). And there should be a focus on capturing, explaining and justifying why a given faculty member was assigned to teach a particular course when that decision was based on “equivalent” or “tested experience.” Not only is this reasoning good for reference but it is also valuable in communicating with your peer review team.

2) What “Equivalent” or “Tested Experience” Really Means

your challenges, our expertiseTo prove that faculty are qualified to teach the courses that they are teaching, HLC provides two general methods of which faculty must demonstrate one:

  • Individual faculty members must hold a degree that is relevant to the discipline or subfield in which they are teaching and this degree must be at least one level above the level at which they teach. For example, if a faculty member is teaching a bachelor-level American History course they must hold a Master’s degree in American History.
  • Individual faculty members must come from the related professional field and hold a breadth and depth of experience outside of the classroom in real-world situations relevant to the discipline in which they are teaching. For example, if a faculty member is teaching a bachelor-level Marketing course they must have a wide range of experience as a marketing professional.

Because “equivalent” or “tested experience” is subjective, it is important that your university has a clear definition of what exactly this means. An institution should be able to explain and justify its decision to assign each faculty member to the courses that they teach. These decisions should be supported by policies and procedures that are acceptable to the professional judgment of HLC peer reviewers. It’s likely your peer review team will want to see the details that justify these decisions. This is the right time to leverage your faculty activity reporting solution. Use it to capture all of their professional experiences and provide a finely tuned picture of each faculty member’s qualifications.

3) How to Interpret “Subfields”

In an effort to focus on the alignment between courses being taught at the university and the faculty member teaching this course, HLC has created an area of clarification around “subfields.” HLC asks:

  • Does this faculty member hold a degree in a discipline that is appropriately matched to the courses they teach? If no… Does this faculty member have a minimum of 18 graduate credit hours in the discipline or subfield in which they teach?
  • Does this faculty member hold a degree at least one level above the level at which they teach? If no… Does this faculty member have a minimum of 18 graduate credit hours in the discipline or subfield in which they teach?

According to the new faculty qualification criteria from HLC, if a faculty member holds a degree in an area other than that in which they teach, they must have completed a minimum of 18 graduate credit hours in the discipline or subfield that they teach. Again, this points to the importance of a faculty activity reporting solution. With this type of system, you’re able to document and demonstrate how a faculty member attained these 18 graduate credit hours

4) How Your Faculty Activity Reporting Solution Can Help

The chief interest of HLC in adjusting their guidelines is to provide better clarity regarding the expectations of peer review teams and to emphasize their commitment to the importance of qualified faculty. And your main objective is to ensure that your university can provide evidence that faculty meet these standards. A faculty activity reporting system provides you with a central hub to capture all of your faculty’s accomplishments—whether it be credentials held or accomplishments in the professional world. A good faculty activity reporting solution should be flexible enough to allow you to capture the data you need to prove all of your faculty are qualified in alignment with the standards.

A faculty activity reporting solution is also valuable when it comes time to make the specific association between faculty qualifications and courses taught. Instead of sorting through CVs and paper copies of course schedules to match these up, use your faculty activity reporting solution to run a report of all of these associations—everything is paired and outlined without any additional work.

In addition to helping you streamline the demonstration of faculty qualifications during HLC accreditation, this type of system can also be used to illustrate the faculty’s performance in regard to many other standards. From collecting service, teaching and research activities to proving these activities support the institution’s mission at all levels, a faculty activity reporting system is a powerful tool for anyone working toward accreditation or reaccreditation.


Higher Learning Commission, “Determining Qualified Faculty Through HLC’s Criteria for Accreditation and Assumed Practices,” Higher Learning Commission, March 2016, http://download.hlcommission.org/FacultyGuidelines_2016_OPB.pdf.

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