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Preliminary Certification Proposal

Members of NCHC,

In November, 2010, Motion 43 by the NCHC Board of Directors directed the Assessment and Evaluation Committee (A&E) to investigate certification methodology.  The motion reads:

“Approve planning by the Assessment and Evaluation Committee to develop a system to be approved by the Board of Directors for completely voluntary certification of honors colleges or programs by NCHC available beginning in 2014.”

In the interim since the late fall of 2010, empirical research was conducted on an assessment instrument and rubrics were devised.  In June, A&E combined these various projects and developed a preliminary proposal for voluntary certification.  It was presented at the 2013 Summer Board Meeting at the end of June, followed by a spirited and thoughtful discussion.  A&E then revised its first draft to sharpen the assessment instrument (pages 8-36) and to include an addendum (pages 40-41, and found at the bottom of this email).  The revised preliminary proposal has been reviewed by the Board of Directors for the past five weeks.

It is now available here.  Threaded comments  have enabled below this post.  I ask that you reflect on the preliminary proposal and post comments to the threaded discussion.  At the Fall 2013 Board Meeting board members will discuss commentary by the membership that is posted to this discussion.  Further revisions will take place in 2014, with the final proposal due no later than the Summer 2014 Board Meeting.

Let me briefly recap the next steps for the motion about voluntary certification.

  1. A pilot test of the process has just been conducted at Oklahoma State University (OSU). Empirical results from the testing of the assessment items and accompanying rubrics will be used to determine whether revisions are warranted.
  2. The outcome of the OSU pilot and any changes that might result to the process will be prepared as a report to the 2013 Board Meeting on November 6 in New Orleans.  Board members will discuss that report as well as commentary by the membership.
  3. That information will be shared with A&E.
  4. A&E will produce a final proposal on voluntary certification for a vote no later than the summer board meeting of 2014.

Addendum of A&E Preliminary Proposal

A system of voluntary certification, if approved by the Board, would:

  • be available only to Honors Colleges through 2016, in an effort to increase human and informational resources needed to sustain the system before rolling it out for all types of institutional members.
  • piloted for Honors Programs in 2017 and available for implementation in 2018, provided that a sufficient number of site visitors have been trained by then.
  • use password-protected, web-accessible modules for rubric scoring that would be undertaken by subcommittees assigned to specific areas of the overall evaluation.
  • use site visitors that are to be:
    • Current NCHC Recommended Site Visitors selected by the National
      Headquarters Office.  The National Office will designate the Chair of the Site Visit Team.
    • Not compensated (except for expenses reimbursed by NCHC National Office).
    • Different from any external reviewers chosen by the host school to conduct a (compensated) site visit designed to prepare itself for certification review. No NCHC Recommended Site Visitor who has served as a paid consultant in any capacity for an institution within the past five years may be part of the External Review Team for voluntary certification of that institution.
  • The Institution being reviewed will pay NCHC a predetermined fee, and NCHC will reimburse Site Visitors only for documented reasonable travel expenses consistent with NCHC’s Travel Policy.
  • As a condition for being added to or continued on the list of Recommended Site Visitors, beginning in 2014, each Site Visitor must agree to be part of one uncompensated voluntary certification review team visit per calendar year if asked to do so by the NCHC Office.  The registration fee for the Site Visitor training institute will be waived for NCHC Members who agree to these terms and are otherwise eligible for consideration to be added to the Site Visitor list following their successful completion of the institute.
  • One copy of the voluntary certification Site Visitor’s final report and the response, if any, from the institution will be filed with the NCHC Office.

Preliminary Certification Proposal Revised 9-6-13

15 Comments to “Preliminary Certification Proposal”

  1. Is there any mention of how states (like Massachusetts) who do their own assessment of honors programs under the guidelines of the Department of Higher Education and the Commonwealth Honors Program would be classified?

    • Dear NCHC Colleagues,

      With OSU having been the “test case” university for the procedures being developed by the Assessment & Evaluation Committee for possible voluntary certification of honors colleges if the Board of Directors were to approve, I would like to provide some preliminary observations after the two-day site visit that took place on October 7-8, 2013.

      First, the template provided by the A&E Committee along with the “scoring” rubric were quite easy to follow and led naturally into the way we formatted our self-study document and the supporting appendices. Having the opportunity to score ourselves for each of the rubric categories was quite beneficial as we prepared for the site visit, and of course we must now await the site visit team’s report to see how closely our self-assessments match with theirs on each of the points. The instrument was clearly designed to accentuate the stronger aspects of an honors college while also allowing constructive criticism that can lead to positive growth. In no way is it a “one size fits all” approach, and there is ample room for the many variations among honors colleges around the country—something that I believe to be very important. We never had the sense that we were “competing” with anyone in terms of the certification rublic.

      Second, our three site visitors were thoroughly professional and encouraging throughout their visit. Our Interim Provost told me that her meeting with them was a refreshing departure from the way in which accrediting teams sometimes comport themselves because the NCHC site visitors clearly were here to help and encourage rather than trying to find fault or trip people up in interviews. Thus far comments from around campus have been uniformly positive whether they be from students, faculty, professional staff, or campus administrators.

      Third, our President is thoroughly in support of voluntary certification of our honors college and indicated so in a letter given to the chair of our site visit team.

      Fourth, because the site visitors under the proposed procedure do not receive an honorarium, what we will be paying NCHC is substantially below what is paid for other certification/accreditation procedures—and, following the advice of some of my NCHC colleagues, I was able to obtain funding from the university’s program review fund that should cover half of the total (thus lessening the impact on the honors budget).

      Fifth, never underestimate the value of having outsiders make the points that you have been trying to make internally. Sometimes the results can be nothing short of miraculous.

      Sixth, if NCHC were to move forward with voluntary certification (something about which, based on our experience as the “test case” university, I am now more positive than during the e-mail exchanges a few months ago on the NCHC listserv in which I reserved judgment until the “facts were in”), we are going to need more NCHC Recommended Site Visitors. I encourage my colleagues to consider becoming site visitors to become part of this process and also to provide other types of consulting and program review assistance to colleges and universities across the United States and (increasingly) in other nations as well—remembering, of course, that the proposed plan will quite properly eliminate anyone from a voluntary certification site visit team if he or she has served in any sort of compensated consulting role for that particular institution in the preceding five years.

      Finally, although I still will need to study the site visitors’ report and gauge how it is received across campus, I do hope to have the chance to visit with NCHC colleagues at our national conference about how things played out in this “test case” with OSU.

      Hope to see everyone next month in New Orleans!

      Take care,

      Bob Spurrier

      Bob Spurrier
      Director of The Honors College
      and Professor of Political Science
      104 Old Central
      Oklahoma State University
      Stillwater, OK 74078-1073
      Telephone: (405) 744-6796
      FAX: (405) 744-6839

    • Hi Ginger! How are things in Haverhill? NCHC optional certification would be a separate process. We (Commonwealth Honors College) would still conduct our six year re-certifications by CHP, even if we opt to participate in the NCHC optional certification. The A&E committee worked extremely hard to make sure the certification domains are very flexible, so there won’t be problems for colleges that are meeting other standards as well. Hope that helps! Best, Alex

  2. Are any of the Standards and Rubrics considered so important that being out of alignment on those would cause a college to be denied certification? We would want to be certain that we would receive certification if we participated, because once the process involves the president, provost, and others, the consequences of being denied certification would be substantial. Thank you.

  3. Dear Colleagues,

    Since the topic of certification has resurfaced on the listserv and seems to be moving toward a fait accompli, I am resending a letter (below) on this topic from eighteen past presidents of NCHC. The distribution of the letter in late April, at the end of the academic year and beginning of the summer, may have reduced its readership, and the letter expresses an opposing viewpoint that, I think, all NCHC members need to review carefully.

    Thank you for your consideration,
    Ada Long

    2 April 2013

    Dear NCHC Colleagues,

    We are writing to you as past presidents of the National Collegiate Honors Council. Collectively, we represent a commitment to honors education and to NCHC that spans decades in which we have built collegial bonds and friendships across institutions and regions. NCHC has historically exhibited a welcoming, cooperative, and inclusive spirit that distinguishes it from most academic organizations. We strongly believe that the movement toward certification or accreditation could result in the creation of a class structure that we have taken great pains to avoid because it would undermine the collegiality that has characterized this organization and ultimately fracture the NCHC.

    We want to be clear that we believe that colleagues who favor this step do so because they believe it is a logical and worthwhile next step for our organization. While we respect their integrity and motivation, we disagree vigorously with their conclusions.

    We share with you an interest in the future of honors education and NCHC as an organization, and with this in mind we wish to express our strong opposition to accreditation and certification. Our belief is that either one will drive many current members out of the organization. Some research universities have already withdrawn from the NCHC in protest against the move toward certification/accreditation, and other member institutions are going to withdraw because the organization that previously welcomed them as equals now commits them to a particular rank or class.

    The bent of those who would pursue the route toward certification or accreditation is to have NCHC validate our honors programs and honors colleges according to some standard. But no such standard exists, and the argument has been cogently made in several NCHC publications that such standardization will stifle creativity, purportedly one of the hallmarks of honors. The “Basic Characteristics” were always intended to be and have remained descriptive and not prescriptive documents. To recast them into prescriptive mandates would be a disservice to the member institutions.

    Furthermore, we believe that certification and accreditation would be inappropriate because validation, if it is desirable, needs to come from an external agency. For NCHC to certify or accredit its own members or to rank our honors programs and colleges is not legitimate, and it is not NCHC’s mission. NCHC should not be in the business of policing honors programs and honors colleges. We consider unsavory the notion that member institutions will pay money to NCHC or its consultants in order to receive its imprimatur of certification or accreditation. We are also uncomfortable about membership fees being used to provide “grants” to institutions so that they can hire NCHC Site Visitors; this practice seems to us a conflict of interest and a misuse of membership funds.

    An important aspect of honors and NCHC that gives us a role in improving the colleges and universities of which we are a part is the flexibility accorded by the honors movement and by our organization. Honors programs and colleges frequently offer what is missing or “what’s next?” in curricular or programmatic terms. If the rest of a university is strong in pre-professional programs, perhaps honors will feature the classics. If elsewhere in the university students feel isolated as intellectual outcasts, honors can be a consoling and inviting gathering place. Honors should fit the institution of which it is a part, not an accrediting template from NCHC that could limit the often alternative and creative identity of honors most needed for each university and for each honors student in it.

    We all are aware of the regional organizations that accredit our colleges and universities. Insisting that honors programs and colleges be deliberately and conscientiously reviewed as part of the accreditation process would be far more effective in ensuring their future than attempting to set another process in motion.

    We hope that you will agree with this collection of past presidents in taking a stand against the movement within NCHC to provide accreditation or certification for its members, which to our thinking is a conflict of interest and an enterprise antithetical to what is best about the National Collegiate Honors Council.


    Bernice Braid
    Catherine Cater
    Ira Cohen
    Bill Daniel
    Joan Digby
    Ted Humphreys
    Jocelyn Jackson
    Hew Joiner
    Donzell Lee
    Ada Long
    Lydia Lyons
    Bill Mech
    Anne Ponder
    Jon Schlenker
    Sam Schuman
    Norm Weiner
    Len Zane
    John Zubizarreta

  4. Following up on Ada’s e-mail to the listserv this morning, I’d like to add that in the spring the Georgia Collegiate Honors Council (GCHC), the statewide organization for honors colleges and honors programs in the state of Georgia, passed a resolution voicing opposition to the movement to make NCHC a certifying or accrediting body. The full text of the resolution is below.

    It is especially important that the variety of views on the topic are discussed by the membership of NCHC and that these views are shared with and heard by the Board of Directors as it seems there will not be an opportunity for the membership to vote on this matter.


    Steve Engel
    President, Georgia Collegiate Honors Council

    Accreditation GCHC 2 22 13

    The Georgia Collegiate Honors Council held its 30th Annual Conference on February 6 -7, 2013, on the campus of Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.

    At that meeting, the Directors of the Honors Programs of the member institutions determined to convey their opposition to the National Collegiate Honors Council casting itself as a certifying or accrediting body.

    Motion: The Georgia Collegiate Honors Council and its member institutions vehemently disapprove of the National Collegiate Honors Council becoming a certifying or accrediting body of honors programs or honors colleges.

    Accreditation or certification is antithetical to the mission of NCHC.

    Accreditation or certification is inherently a conflict of interest.

    Accreditation or certification will solidify a disparity between the haves and have-nots.

    Accreditation or certification will create a class system.

    Accreditation or certification will undermine the collegiality that is essential to NCHC.

    Accreditation or certification will alienate the membership and drive GCHC members out of the national organization.

    Accreditation or certification will tarnish NCHC and its reputation by making payments to NCHC or its hired consultants an essential part of the equation for receiving NCHC’s imprimatur.

  5. I tried sending this as a response to the Hermes listserv but got a rejected post:

    Thanks for the renewed interest in this conversation!

    I am not the expert on this issue, but as a Board member I do think I can answer some of the questions posed this morning. Specifics about the plan for studying certification are probably best put to A&E members that helped develop it.

    I have been grateful to colleagues that have reached out to me and expressed concern with the concept of certification. I am especially thankful to the group of NCHC past presidents that have outlined their concerns about the process. I have to respectfully disagree with those who do not believe that NCHC cannot articulate a process that is at once flexible and rigorous enough to be inclusive and meaningful. I am also grateful to Alex Phillips for sharing his experience with the state-level approval process in Massachusetts. I agree with his assessment that any NCHC plan would have to be broad in nature. I also agree with his observation that opposition before the plan was shared earlier this week was premature.

    I say this because what was being opposed prior to this week was an idea–the idea of certification. Now that we have a proposed plan in place, I think we can have honest conversation about the merits of the proposed plan. I found the opposition to an idea particularly troubling given our role as Honors educators. For me, Honors (and liberal education, in general) is well-summarized by Aristotle’s quote: “It is the mark of an educated person to be able to entertain an idea without becoming convinced of it.” I admit to my relative naiveté and look forward to thoughtful debate on the merits of the proposed plan, especially from my colleagues with more experience.

    Another point that may be causing some confusion is the wording of the Board motion that set up this process:
    “Approve planning by the Assessment and Evaluation Committee to develop a system to be approved by the Board of Directors for completely voluntary certification of honors colleges or programs by NCHC available beginning in 2014.”

    What the Board voted on in November 10 was to ask A&E to present a proposal that could be evaluated. We did not vote to approve certification…the Board will do that once they evaluate the test implementation of the proposed process at OSU and feedback from members. For better or worse, I won’t be on the Board when that vote takes place in Summer 2014, but my hope is that whoever is in that role will have the benefit of thoughtful feedback from the membership when she or he votes.

    Looking forward to continuing the conversation in NOLA and on the discussion board.

    Jon Kotinek

  6. I’m not sure how many folks are reading this thread. The listserve seems to be getting more traffic. And I too appreciate the civility of the conversation. In the interest of sharing views, I’ll repeat what I think I “seconded” on the listserve.

    It seems to me that an issue this big (generating the largest and most sustained dialogue I have seen in my short time here) should be voted on by all membership. A democratic approach seems appropriate given the interest about, and potential impact of, the decision. And if the decision goes the way the Board would like, hopefully the membership can accept this without a filibuster and shutting down the NCHC.

    In the meantime, I think many of us would be disappointed to have such an important decision “foisted” upon us. I choose this word carefully and hope it is not seen as antagonistic. But this decision deserves effective input from the full membership. To the response that we elected this Board, I had a difficult time discerning members’ positions on this issue from their online statements prior to the last elections. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough.

    • Jeff Portnoy, in particular, made an effort to get this information from the last group of board nominees and I think that has helped keep the discussion in the open. At least a couple of the nominees took the time to edit their candidate statements to address the issue of certification. I am looking forward to Jeff’s presentation at the conference on the subject.

      I hope (and I expect, given the response) that when the issue of certification does actually come up for a vote of the Board, that a motion is made to bring the issue up to a vote of the membership.

  7. I asked on the listserv whether there are plans to survey members to determine how many institutions will withdraw from the organization if it goes ahead with this plan for voluntary certification. It would seem to me that a failure to pursue that question before implementation is a violation of a board member’s fiduciary responsibility to NCHC. I can’t tell from the back and forth on the listserv the extent of the division within the ranks. But when a significant number of past presidents come out in opposition to a plan, that’s a sign that you may be setting NCHC up for a terrible rift the negative consequences of which could easily outweigh whatever benefits this plan seems designed to achieve. Losing a flagship Honors program like Penn State may be the tip of the iceberg. Quite apart from whether the Board feels it needs to put the program to a vote of the membership (a separate question that is being pressed on the listserv), I would urge you to devise a way to ask each of us whether our institutions would withdraw if this plan is approved by the Board. You need to consider what percentage of the members this institution can afford to lose.

  8. In challenge to the proposal, and in response to the letter of the past presidents, I made the following comments on the Hermes yesterday and have been encouraged by many others to post them here as well….so this is largely a repeat (with a few amendments)

    Dear Ada and the signatories (past presidents), thank you indeed for this resend. I remember the original letter and appreciate its tone, graciousness, and vigorous statement of position. I have paid attention (mostly when time allows) to the other posts sent and positions stated. Without wanting to discount the vision and views of the proponents and some benefits of the proposal, I think these past presidents offer an important critique and would urge its serious consideration and likewise offer for consideration four further concerns about the proposal:

    1.NCHC and its conference is already, by far, the most expensive professional society in which I participate. It is often hard to justify in the face of other real costs and other beneficial activities; I think NCHC would neither serve itself nor its members well to create additional costs either directly or indirectly related to membership (The Small College Committee commented on this vigorously when the fees were raised).

    2. While the certification at this stage is envisioned as optional and for honors colleges, it is wise to remember how such ‘optional’ additions often operate: either they become a market norm requiring, in effect, all institutions to participate as it becomes viewed as the new best practice (and spread to a broader group), or in a later generation, such become instituted as official requirements. I think any acceptance of this should be based on the expectation that it will in the future become the norm and/or a requirement, and that is dangerous indeed.

    3. The consequences both intended and unintended of such a position should be carefully considered, especially for small and medium schools upon whom new levels of certification would be especially difficult affecting both budgets and personnel, remembering that in a small institution, one is more likely to wear multiple hats and bear broader duties often combined with very little room for financial manoeuvre. Faculty in smaller colleges often teach a 4+4 load and if made honors director, might see a 1 course reduction (1 per semester if lucky!) and still have other committee duties. Such, in my estimation, would be unfairly affected by the work required for further certification and this could have a chilling affect…including recruitment of new, able honors directors.

    4. A final point, we live in a time when higher educ faces multiple, profound crises including cost containment and the growth of bureaucracies which raise price and reduce student contact hours (i.e. Formation). We are in this vocation, or at least many are, because of the twin pleasures/passions of forming future generations and discovering new ways of understanding, engaging, and shaping our world (for the better!). This is what makes it a profession (it’s all in Newman!). New levels of intermediary activity must, I think, demonstrate new overhead costs are absolutely warranted. After all, in the private institutions, we are spending others’ money (the students, their families, and donors), and oh yes, in the public sector the same is also true too!

    Yours from across the pond,


    [NB: if it is helpful to readers, some context for my comments…a member of NCHC for ca. 12 years, active member of Small College Committee, chair of Int’l Educ Committee, member of 2012 conference planning committee, director of an honors study abroad programme for an association of ca. 150 small and medium colleges, and involved in British higher education as a member of Oxford.]


    After reading the various messages posted here and on the NCHC listserv about possible voluntary NCHC certification of honors colleges, I can’t help being reminded of the quotation attributed to that great American philosopher Yogi Berra, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” I recall that the very same sorts of arguments and threats (veiled and otherwise) were advanced in the early 1990s when Dick Cummings and the Honors Evaluation Committee (as it was known in those days) proposed the Basic Characteristics of a Fully-Developed Honors Program to the Executive Committee (the name of the Board of Directors back then) for approval.

    After extended and healthy debate, the Executive Committee in 1994 approved the Basic Characteristics (subsequently amended and currently codified at NCHC Standing Order XVII) without a vote of the membership as requested (demanded?) by some. The results, in my humble opinion, were that the world did not come to an end and NCHC emerged as a stronger, more vibrant national organization. Even the members who at the time were inclined to give credence to the fears of the opponents of the Basic Characteristics came to accept and later embrace the idea that these national guidelines provided a valuable tool for strengthening honors education at their home institutions.

    In the context of our current discussion, it may be worth quoting from Dick Cummings’ article, “A Brief Look at NCHC’s Current Identity Crisis—and Beyond” in the Summer 1995 issue of The National Honors Report that followed NCHC’s adoption of the Basic Characteristics. “It seems to me that in seeking to accommodate a wide range of needs and perceptions without taking time to stop and rethink the scope and focus of honors education is or should be, NCHC has tried to be all things to all people and, in the process, we have lost our way. We have developed the habit of bending over backwards to allow the broadest and most lenient possible definition of what constitutes honors education lest we give offense to members or potential members, no matter how questionable their credentials may be. * * * I believe a modest first step in the direction of resolving our identity crisis was made . . . when the Executive Committee accepted the [Basic Characteristics].”

    In an earlier NHR article (Summer 1994) Dick had recounted that as NCHC President in 1987 he sent a questionnaire to NCHC members that included the question, “Would you find it useful for NCHC to develop a more systematic approach to evaluation and accreditation of honors programs?” The responses he received were 31% strongly opposed, 32% definitely in favor, and 37% undecided or did not respond to question.

    Now, let’s assume for a moment that at least some of our member institutions would like to receive some form of voluntary certification from NCHC (something that doesn’t seem all that shocking in that most honors programs and honors colleges provide similar validation of their honors students’ achievements by special diplomas, transcript notations, and recognition at Commencement—and student participation in those honors programs and honors colleges is almost always voluntary). Assuming that we can come up with a viable mechanism for voluntary certification (and that remains to be determined), do we want to be in the position of telling these colleagues that they cannot possibly earn external validation through NCHC even though we have the tools to provide it?

    The environment of higher education has changed dramatically since my days as an honors student back in the 1960s. Accountability, internal and external, is becoming much more important in higher education in general and for specific academic programs. We can no longer expect to be considered “high quality” just because we say that we are, and I fear that if NCHC is not willing to provide some sort of external validation we will soon discover that others will offer to do so.

    Although NCHC does not have an official mascot, I do hope that ours does not become a figurative ostrich in the early 21st Century only to be morphed into a brontosaurus later as we perish because we could not—or would not—adapt to our changing environment.

    FYI, for those who are interested in titles of old folks, I guess I should note that I am one of the Past Presidents of NCHC who did not sign the “group” letter. 🙂

    May the discussion continue unabated….without adherence to the old lawyers’ maxim, “If the facts are against you, argue the law; if the law is against you, argue the facts; but if both the facts and the law are against you, attack your opponent.


    Bob Spurrier
    Director of The Honors College
    and Professor of Political Science
    104 Old Central
    Oklahoma State University
    Stillwater, OK 74078-1073
    Telephone: (405) 744-6796
    FAX: (405) 744-6839

  10. (Below is the message that I posted to the listserv with the addition of a P.S. in response to more recent comments.)

    Dear Honors Colleagues,

    I fully support the arguments and concerns raised by our colleagues who oppose the movement towards certification, which seems to be presented as a fait accompli despite the serious and thoughtful arguments of a swelling grassroots movement fueled by the stand of eighteen disinterested former presidents of NCHC.

    I am troubled by the flawed process that has seemingly led to certification and its being depicted as inevitable. In addition, many arguments have been made and need to be made about why this move to certification is a poor one that will have many unfortunate as well unintended consequences.

    I invite all of the attendees at the national conference in New Orleans, but especially those currently holding or aspiring to hold an office in NCHC, committee chairs and members, those who might consider participating in a voluntary certification process, and those who have authored this certification process, to attend my session in Southdown on Saturday, 9 November, at 12:30: STOP Certification/Accreditation NOW: The Backstory of a Bad Idea.

    Thank you for putting this session on your priority list for conference sessions to attend because the process that has generated the A & E proposal has been even more problematic and disturbing than the listserv discussion has intimated.

    If you feel strongly about this issue, I would encourage you in New Orleans to ask NCHC leadership why the membership has yet to be invited to participate in a full discussion of this issue at a national conference and has not been invited to vote on this crucial issue that has the potential to change the character and collegiality of our organization.


    P.S. This process has been anything but transparent and open. I intend to prove that argument during my session. Moreover, the differences that exist between the handling of this initiative and the other major changes in NCHC (Basic Characteristics of Honors Programs, Basic Characteristisc of Honors Colleges, and the opening of a national office and the hiring of a director and staff) are profound and dismaying. I will prove that as well.

  11. Friends, I cannot post here as an attachment my lengthy and detailed letter addressing the form and content of the A&E report that the committee dutifully drafted to fulfill its charge from the Board of Directors. I commend the efforts of the committee and admire its sincerity, and I hope readers will take the time to read my comments with comparable care.

    My response is too long to copy here, so I urge you to visit either the Hermes listserv or the members-only discussion forum (accessible from the Members tab on the NCHC web site)where you can find it. Thanks.

  12. All,

    Sorry to have been away from the conversation on certification (I was in Houston on a fundraising trip without my laptop, and I’m too clumsy to compose an email of this length on my iPhone). I am pleased to see the conversation ensue, and I want to remind participants that we have a considerable amount of time to continue the exchange of ideas. In the post I will state my view in summary form and then make a few procedural points.

    For almost 24 months I have been posting the outlines of my position, but until lately there has been no specific proposal upon which to comment. In the past, and even in the prior few days, points for and against have been stated in the abstract, expressing either hopes or fears of the effects of certification. Now, because A&E has produced a preliminary proposal for certification, we can comment on particulars. Based upon my study of the preliminary proposal, I would classify my view as falling in the middle range.
    • The instrument, grounded in empirical research and reflecting NCHC’s basic characteristics, has been enhanced by the use of rubrics but remains a work-in-progress.
    o A&E states that certification should promote program advocacy, with which I whole-heartedly agree (professional peer review should always have that goal). To do that, the final version of the proposal must make clear how the instrument is to be used.
     Are some dimensions more important than others?
     What does certification demonstrate?
     Under what circumstances, using the instrument for a review, would certification not be granted? What are the grounds for appeal, if not granted?
    • The process of certification needs more development before it could be considered ready to implement. Let me elaborate:
    o I support certification for honors colleges but yet not for programs.
     Survey data show that colleges appear to be more homogenous as a category than do programs.
     The Basic Characteristics expect more from colleges, and I think they need to demonstrate it for the sake of their students.
     NCHC does not have nor will it be able to develop quickly the infrastructure to implement certification, should it pass, even for colleges. Add in requests for certification visits from programs, too, and the system could not respond.
    o Therefore, if it was approved by the Board, I support delaying implementation for honors colleges until a sufficient number of site visitors can be trained. At this point, I don’t know how long that will take. It depends upon:
     The final form of the A&E proposal.
     How many site visitors can be trained in the next year or two
    • Note that there are 140 honors colleges that would need a visit
    • It may take three persons per visit
    • None are being compensated, and therefore no one is likely to do more than one visit per year
    • Doing the math, it would require a cadre of nearly 140 to carry out a complete round of certification during a five year period (46-47 certification visits a year with three site visitors each over five years).
    • I support flexible use of the instrument that accounts for variability among honors colleges by focusing on the empirical demonstration of their missions.
    o Certification would work best, in my view, when it determines the degree to which an honors college is successful in terms of its own mission or educational philosophy. Mission-specific evaluations ask administrators and faculty to clarify their educational values and specify student learning outcomes with concomitant processes to achieve them rooted in curricular and co-curricular practices.
    o This kind of focus in a certification process would place precisely the demand needed on honors colleges—that each should implement a full-fledged assessment process—not that all honors colleges be identical.
    o This kind of focus puts the onus on learning outcomes and not institutional inputs. Patently, resources are important in delivering a mission; however, we do not know enough yet about the relationship between resources available per student and the degree to which student learning outcomes are met to base certification on institutional inputs.

    Let me conclude with comments about the process. A&E, charged by a Board motion to propose a process for completely voluntary certification, completed a preliminary version of the proposal this summer and is seeing how it works in a pilot test at OSU. Results from the pilot along with comments from NCHC members, the Board of Directors, and members of the A&E committee will be used to modify the proposed instrument and process. It is likely to take months, and I expect the final draft will not be ready for a Board vote until the Summer 2014 Board of Directors meeting. That would require the final draft to be available for review by all stakeholders well in advance of the June meeting.

    I am placing this post on the Hermes listserv and on the threaded discussion at the bottom of the front page on NCHC’s website. All of us—the membership, Board of Directors and committee members of A&E—need your comments on the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal. The Board is rolling out the preliminary proposal slowly, carefully and thoughtfully. There is no rush to judgment. There remains plenty of time to participate in the discussion.



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