Faculty Qualifications and Tested Experience with University of Northern Colorado

Faculty Qualifications and Tested Experience with University of Northern Colorado

Defining, documenting and reporting faculty qualifications and tested experience for accreditation is a high-stakes undertaking for universities. Mark Smith, Associate Dean at University of Northern Colorado (UNCO) shared his institution’s experience with capturing and reporting faculty qualifications for Higher Learning Commission (HLC) accreditation at HLC’s annual conference. Stacy Becker, Watermark Client Success Manager, co-presented, bringing the perspective of the institutions who helped shape faculty qualifications and tested experience reporting for Digital Measures by Watermark. Here are the highlights from their presentation.

The Data Needed for Qualifications Reporting

UNCO’s reporting on faculty qualifications and tested experience began with successfully implementing faculty activity reporting software. UNCO partnered with Watermark and took on an initiative to use Digital Measures by Watermark software for all review processes in 2016. This includes biannual, comprehensive, pre-tenure and post-tenure reviews. Previously, faculty reporting and review processes were paper-based; now, all reporting is pulled from data in the system, and reviews take place within the system. You can read more about UNCO’s story of embracing faculty activity reporting here and here. The success of this initiative has provided the data UNCO needed for accreditation and other reporting.

Smith acknowledged the key factor for success for all reporting, including faculty qualifications: engaging faculty to enter their teaching, research and service into the system. “The system is only as good as the data in it, so how would we make sure it’s complete and keep it up to date?” Mandating using the system for reviews helped, but so did one of the system’s payoffs. “Faculty have a lot of things to do. We have six colleges, and a typical workload of 60-20-20, sometimes 40-40-20, which is important when talking about getting a system on track,” Smith said. “I didn’t want to keep going to them asking for information—’Can you tell me this? Can you figure this out?’ I committed to using data in the system for reporting needs.”

your challenges, our expertiseSmith embarked on a campus tour to sell the idea of using the system for reviews to faculty. “One physics professor had been with the university a good 20 years. He said, ‘I won’t do it. I don’t need to. I’ve been doing this for years, I like paper.’” Smith met with him to show him how to enter his activities in the system. “Pretty soon, he said, ‘I really like this. Can I do my post-tenure review in it?’ The next thing I know, he’s doing workshops for three different units on campus, showing them how to use it.”

The payoff is huge. “Having faculty activity data centrally located is fantastic for me as an administrator,” Smith said. “A report I had to put together that used to take two weeks to go through the ranks in departments took 45 minutes this year. I had the data, and didn’t have to ask anyone to provide it again.”

How does that pay off for HLC reporting?

Developing Faculty Qualifications Reports

After HLC’s policy revision in 2015 and restatement in 2016, colleges and universities began looking more closely at making sure faculty are appropriately qualified for the courses they’re teaching. “Clients came to Watermark asking if Digital Measures by Watermark had reports they could use,” Becker said.

The 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.” HLC states that faculty can be qualified one of two ways:

  • By holding a degree that is relevant to the discipline or subfield in which they are teaching and which is at least one level above the level they teach
  • By coming from the related professional field and holding a breadth and depth of experience outside of the classroom in real-world situations relevant to the discipline in which they are teaching

Learn more about the HLC guidelines here.

Determining whether a faculty member is qualified to teach their courses requires universities to have two key things:

  • Established criteria for evaluating faculty qualifications for each discipline
  • Faculty activity data that can be used to determine whether qualification criteria are met

“We recognized that all of the information needed to report on this was already being captured in the system, so we committed to design reporting on faculty qualifications. We were already tracking courses, degrees, licenses, certifications and other activities,” Becker said. It was also important to design and document tested experience to be sure the standard could be consistently applied across a unit or institution.

“We established a working group of clients to create an overall approach to credentialing,” Becker said. “We wanted to keep it broad, so it can be used for HLC and other accreditors as well.”

UNCO’s Faculty Qualification Journey

As an associate dean in the College of Natural and Health Sciences, Smith was responsible for having each unit in his college develop its own evaluation criteria for qualified faculty, which varied considerably from unit to unit. For example, Biology decided that it wouldn’t allow faculty to be qualified based on tested experience; only faculty qualified by their degrees can teach in the unit. Nursing, which struggles to get enough faculty, needed to pull clinicians from the field, and embraced tested experience through licenses and certifications as well as experience. Then unit-level leaders, associate deans and the provost’s office had to agree on those standards.

“Then came the fun part,” Smith said. “We’ve got these standards. Great! How are we going to track them? Where will we house the information?” Smith turned to Becker to see if it could be done in Digital Measures by Watermark. “I had seen a presentation at User Group related to this. So I worked with Stacy to figure out how we could be sure we had everything we needed and could report on it for HLC,” Smith said.

Some institutions require getting down to a granular, course-by-course level to meet the requirements of accrediting bodies like Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) standards. But for HLC accreditation, Becker advised UNCO to take a higher level view. This included adding fields to Digital Measures by Watermark to capture tested experience and what qualifies the experience, such as a certification, license or other proof of tested experience. Smith requested a place to upload documentation to support the qualification, a feature now included in Digital Measures by Watermark’s out of the box solution.

Next Steps

UNCO continues to test its HLC reporting, with a first full run of the reporting scheduled for August 2018. In addition, the university is extending its capture of documentation with transcripts and other information, beginning with the hiring process. Through all of this, UNCO continues its rollout of digitized review processes in Digital Measures by Watermark’s Workflow, completing an evolution in efficiency that began with moving away from paper-based reporting.

About UNCO

Colorado’s State Normal School was founded in 1889 to train qualified teachers for the state’s public schools; it became the University of Northern Colorado in 1970. Today, the university is a comprehensive baccalaureate and doctoral granting research university striving to promote effective teaching, lifelong learning, the advancement of knowledge, research and a commitment to service, with more than 13,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

Learn More: View Our Faculty Qualifications Webinar

Given the range of expectations from regional and professional accreditors, should you take a high-level, overview approach, as UNCO did, or get into the details of individual courses?

Learn how Pittsburg State University and University of Texas Rio Grande Valley took different approaches to documenting faculty qualifications in this webinar recording.

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