In August, Bethel College alumni were notified by President Jon Gering that a review team from the Higher Learning Commission that visited the school in May for an accreditation review was recommending the college be placed on probation.

“The Peer Review Team concluded that Bethel College did not meet the standards for accreditation in the area of financial resources, their management and their sustainability for supporting the institution,” Gering said. “Their main concern was a long-term pattern of annual operating budget shortfalls. They have recommended that the college be placed on probation until May 2021, although a final decision to place the college on probation won’t be made until November 2019.”

A final decision was rendered Nov. 22. The Higher Learning Commission, Bethel College’s accrediting body, has made a ruling of “Accreditation-On Notice” at the conclusion of the regular accreditation process that occurs every 10 years. “On Notice” represents an important shift.

The college remains accredited. Credits from Bethel will be accepted for transfer or for graduate programs, and financial aid will continue to be dispersed.

Bethel has been accredited by the HLC since 1938, with reaffirmation of accreditation occurring every 10 years since then.

In order to achieve reaffirmation of accreditation, an institution must successfully meet five “Criteria for Education,” by meeting every “core component” that falls under each criterion.

During the routine 10-year reaffirmation of accreditation process in May 2019, the peer review team flagged one core component under Criterion 4, having to do with assessment, and two under Criterion 5, regarding the college’s annual operating budgets and financial position.

As a result, two committees within the HLC recommended that Bethel College be placed on probation, with the official HLC ruling on the final determination of probation to be announced in November 2019. That announcement, of Accreditation-On Notice, came Nov. 22.

The three core components are now “met with concerns” (rather than “not met”), which moves the college away from probation status

On Notice has “some big differences from probation,” noted Robert Milliman, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs.

The college can now apply for “substantive changes (for example, adding a major), although subject to strict scrutiny,” he said.

“We are now faced with an evaluation visit in 2021 based only on the core components ‘met with concerns,’ instead of a full-fledged comprehensive visit in which all of the core components would have once again been in play. And we are back on the regular ‘Standard Pathway’ schedule for comprehensive evaluations, with the next visit slated for 2023-24.”

Bethel must show by Feb. 1, 2021, that it has remedied the issues that led to the On Notice sanction, in preparation for HLC’s on-site evaluation, to take place no later than April 2021.

“In sum, while relieved we were not placed on probation, we take this sanction of On Notice seriously and have begun to aggressively address the concerns expressed by the HLC,” Milliman said. “We are confident that we already have taken the right steps and will achieve a satisfactory outcome.

In November 2021, the HLC Board of Trustees will determine whether Bethel College has demonstrated that it is no longer at risk of being out of compliance with the Criteria for Accreditation, and whether On Notice can be removed.

“The Board of Directors, administrative cabinet, and faculty and staff took preemptive actions to address the concerns of the HLC,” Gering said. “I want to thank them for their vision and commitment to the college. I also want to thank alumni and donors for their continued support of the college.”