Higher Learning Commission


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The Quality Initiative: Institutional Improvement in the Open Pathway

The Open Pathway requires the institution to undertake a major Quality Initiative designed to suit its present concerns or aspirations. The Quality Initiative takes place between years 5 and 9 of the 10-year Open Pathway Cycle. A Quality Initiative may be designed to begin and be completed during this time or an institution may continue a project that is already in progress or achieve a key milestone in the work of a longer initiative. The Quality Initiative is intended to allow institutions to take risks, aim high, and if so be it, learn from only partial success or even failure.

The Quality Initiative can take one of three forms:

  1. The institution designs and proposes its own Quality Initiative to suit its present concerns or aspirations
  2. The institution choose an initiative from a menu of topics, such as the following examples:
    • The institution undertakes a broad based self-evaluation and reflection leading to revision or restatement of its mission, vision, and goals;
    • The institution joins with a group of peer institutions, which it identifies, to develop a benchmarking process for broad institutional self-evaluation;
    • The institution undertakes a multi-year process to create systemic, comprehensive assessment and improvement of student learning;
    • A four-year institution joins with community colleges to create a program of dual admission, joint recruitment and coordinated curriculum and student support;
    • The institution pursues a strategic initiative to improve its financial position;
    • The institution engages in a Commission-endorsed program or process offered by another agency, such as the Foundations of Excellence program offered by the Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education or the LEAP Initiative offered by the Association of American Colleges and Universities;
  3. The institution chooses to participate in a Commission-facilitated program. Currently, the Commission has two such programs, the Assessment Academy and Persistence and Completion Academy.

Most Common Topics of Quality Initiatives

These are the most common topics of Quality Initiatives that have been submitted to the Commission:

  • Student success (including Foundations of Excellence and focus on persistence & completion)
  • Assessment of student learning
  • Online/mobile Learning (including Quality Matters)
  • Organizational planning
  • Unit or program review
  • Developing a quality culture
  • Cultural competency

HLC has identified a number of Quality Initiative Proposals as a resource for institutions.

Special Focus on Civic Engagement Through Quality Initiatives

In support of its Guiding Values that states “every educational institution serves a public purpose,” HLC will feature Quality Initiatives that promote civic learning on campuses. Institutions that select projects for their Quality Initiative that promote civic learning and civic engagement will be recognized for their commitment by HLC publishing their Quality Initiative Proposal on qi.hlcommission.org.  

These Initiatives might take the form of reporting on successful campus action projects, sharing new civic engagement efforts and methods, or describing new partnerships designed to promote civic awareness, community change or service learning.

Institutions looking for resources related to civic engagement activities may want to reach out to the following organizations whose work include publications and conferences that are designed to build awareness, share best practices, and promote broad understanding: 

  • AAC&U, the Association of American Colleges & Universities  
  • APSA, the American Political Science Association 
  • Campus Compact, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting civic learning and social responsibility across America’s colleges and universities   

Questions? Contact Jeff Rosen, Vice President of Accreditation Relations and Director of the Open Pathway, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Quality Initiative Demonstration Project

From 2011-2013, the Higher Learning Commission collaborated with 23 colleges and universities to test and provide commentary on the beta version of the Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP). The collaboration also provided a forum for refining the Commission’s new accrediting model, Pathways, specifically experimenting with a Commission-facilitated, collaborative version of the Open Pathway’s required Quality Initiative. The final report detailing the work of the project is available: Exploring Degree Qualifications: A Descriptive Analysis of the Quality Initiative Demonstration Project to Test the Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile



Pathways for Reaffirmation of Accreditation

Choosing a Pathway

Standard Pathway

AQIP Pathway


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