HLC Assurance Argument

Writing the HLC Assurance Argument

For those of you familiar with accreditation – you know about creating hundreds of pages of documentation organized in binders accompanied by a lengthy self-study.  Today for accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), we instead write an Assurance Argument which is at most 40,000 words and is accompanied by hundreds of Evidence Files which support the text of the Argument.

Purdue Northwest’s HLC accreditation staff will have responsibility for entering the Assurance Argument and uploading evidence files into HLC’s online system. Writing an Assurance Argument is much different from other types of technical writing – it will connect the evidence with our institution’s assertions about how we comply with accreditation standards. According to HLC (Smith and Rosen, 2017), there are few things that Assurance Arguments are not:

  • A list of evidence that is not interpreted
  • A superficial description or series of descriptions
  • A history lesson or sociological analysis
  • A marketing brochure, sales pitch, or promotion
  • A self-study overview or SWOT analysis

Rather than a self-study, HLC advises an Assurance Argument is “a persuasive narrative, backed up by evidence, that assures your institution is in full compliance with the Commission’s Criteria for Accreditation” (Smith and Rosen, 2017). As such, PNW’s Assurance Argument will need to strive for critical self-analysis and transparency that paints an accurate picture of the institution for the HLC reviewing team.  To accomplish this, it:

  • Is organized by core component so that each criterion argument forms a coherent whole argument
  • Links clear evidence that supports each claim
  • Affirms expectations have been met

PNW will use a variety of evidence for this process that demonstrate how well the university meets expectations of each core component and details its plans for improvement.  Evidence can come in many forms, including:

  • Formal documents such as strategic plans, master plans, the university catalog, and Faculty Senate documents
  • Processes and policies
  • Data summaries and analyses

Reference: Smith, J. and Rosen, J. (2017). The year 4 assurance argument: Process, evidence and Review.  2017 Pathways Workshop and General Session.