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Larry Skogen

Could DSU lose its accreditation? 'Impossible,' says chancellor

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Could DSU lose its accreditation? 'Impossible,' says chancellor
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The acting chancellor of the North Dakota University System said Wednesday he believes there is no chance of Dickinson State University's accreditation being pulled by the Higher Learning Commission.


"It's impossible," said Bismarck State College President Larry Skogen, who stepped into the chancellor role on a temporary basis in June. "I'll say it as emphatically as possible: Dickinson State is a fine institution and they will not lose their accreditation. The Higher Learning Commission is going to roll in and say, 'Yep, you've corrected those problems.'"

Citing concerns about DSU's "oversight of admissions and transfer procedures, gathering and reporting of enrollment and related data" and the "integrity of the program provided to certain international students," among other noted issues, the HLC -- an arm of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools -- placed DSU "on notice" in July of 2012.

While remaining fully accredited by the HLC, the "on notice" status meant DSU was charged with a "sanction indicating that an institution is pursuing a course of action that, if continued, could lead it to be out of compliance with one or more criteria for accreditation," according to HLC policy. DSU submitted a "notice response" report in February and the HLC Board of Trustees is expected to take up DSU's "on notice" status during its scheduled November meeting.

Sanctions such as "notice or probation and procedural orders like show-cause are applied to situations as they are deemed necessary by the evaluation process," said HLC spokesman John Hausaman, who added that "there is no specific path" that is followed in the HLC's process.

The board is made up of a chair, vice chair and 18 trustees -- including former North Dakota Sen. David Nething -- along with several "public" members.

"My opinion is based on knowledge of how accreditation works," Skogen said. "There is a whole other step in the process, so to go from where they are now to losing their accreditation is not the process. They are working through their issues at an institutional level."

Though DSU spokesperson Marie Moe said in a text message that university President D.C. Coston was unavailable Wednesday, the school issued a release attributed to Cynthia Pemberton, DSU's provost and vice president for academic affairs, that referenced an April on-site visit by an HLC team.

"Our impressions of the on-site team's visit are positive," Pemberton stated. "We are cautiously optimistic, while remaining fully cognizant that the final decision regarding removal of the notice sanction remains to be made by the Higher Learning Commission's Board of Trustees."

According to the most detailed information released to The Press by the HLC -- which has a policy of not commenting on schools involved in sanction proceedings -- only four institutions since 2005 have had their accreditations revoked. All four institutions -- Ellis University, NAES College, Lewis and Clark College of Business and Mountain State University -- were issued a "show cause" letter by the HLC, which is a different status than being labeled as "on notice."

Though the HLC board has the power to strip DSU of its accreditation at its November meeting -- or at a later date -- Skogen said no plan is in place for what the NDUS would do if such a move is made.

"I don't plan for the impossible," Skogen said. "It's not going to happen. I fully expect, to my very core, that the Higher Learning Commission will come out and validate all the hard work that Dr. Coston and all the fine people at Dickinson State have been doing."

North Dakota State Sen. Rich Wardner, a Republican out of Dickinson, said he doesn't expect DSU to lose its accredited standing with the HLC.

"I know some people are worried about it, but I'm not," Wardner said. "I think the people at Dickinson State have done a good job of being transparent with the Higher Learning Commission. They've taken advice from the (HLC) on how to correct things. What happened there was not right, but the people who were the players in instigating the wrongdoing are gone. If it did happen (that DSU lost its accreditation), I would see the community leaders assessing the situation and replacing (DSU) with some other type of institution of higher education."

In a letter sent Wednesday to The Press and D.C. Coston, Hausaman reiterated the fact that each case the HLC oversees is unique.

"I want to re-emphasize that the HLC's decisions on sanctions are decided on a case-by-case basis and are applied to the unique circumstances of each institution. The commission does not speculate on the possible outcomes of its evaluations. Comparison with other institutions or specific cases may lead to incorrect conclusions."

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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