This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Bethel College avoids probation, accreditation ‘on notice’

Photo: The Bethel College campus. Photo by Taylor Brown/Bethel College

Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas, avoided probation in November when it learned its accrediting body chose instead to put the college “on notice” due to concerns about its financial health and assessment practices.

The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) made a ruling of “Accreditation-On Notice” at the conclusion of its once-a-decade accreditation process. The ruling was announced Nov. 22.

College administrators had been informed after a review team’s site visit in May that the recommendation would be for probation. “On notice” represents an important shift.

In either case, Bethel remains accredited, as it has been since 1938.

After its visit in May, the HLC review team cited three areas of concern with “core components” — one having to do with assessment and two regarding annual operating budgets and financial position.

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

Vice president for academic affairs Robert Milliman says the new status has some big differences from probation. Bethel can now apply for “substantive changes,” such as adding a major, although subject to strict scrutiny.

“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,” Milliman says. “And we are back on the regular ‘Standard Pathway’ schedule for comprehensive evaluations, with the next visit slated for 2023-24.”

Bethel submitted a report to the HLC earlier this fall defining performance benchmarks that will keep tabs on the college’s financial health, with the goal of achieving a balanced operating budget in fiscal year 2021 with no supplemental endowment draws.

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 says. “We are confident that we already have taken the right steps and will achieve a satisfactory outcome. Bethel College has been and remains an excellent place to receive a top-notch liberal arts education with a variety of outstanding professional program options.”

In November 2021, the HLC board of trustees will determine whether Bethel has demonstrated it is no longer at risk of being out of compliance, and whether “on notice” can be removed.

Bethel recently embarked on a capital campaign that has at its center the college’s academic, physical and mental and financial health.

The campaign goals are a fitness and wellness center, academic program enhancements and technology upgrades to assist in recruiting, retaining and graduating students.

“The board of directors, administrative cabinet and faculty and staff took pre-emptive actions to address the concerns of the HLC,” President Jon Gering says. “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.”

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