Criterion Five: Engagement and Service

As called for by its mission, the organization identifies its constituencies and serves them in ways both value.

Co-Chair: David Thomson | | 230-5129 | ST120

Co-Chair: Lonnie Jackson | | 230-5224 | MO7624

Jill Batson | | 230-5169 | MB129

Johnny Campbell | | 230-5098 | Horton

Victor Claar | | 230-5457 | MO213B

Greg Gibson | | 230-5058 | MB126

John Hardee | | 230-5320 | MB113

Troy Hogue | | 230-5370 | CA145

Calvin Johnson | | 230-5228 | GA112

Patti Miley | | 230-5055 | PR201

Joyce Shepherd | | 230-5142 | MB309G

Drew Smith | | 230-5265 | IH107B

Lynn Stanley | | 230-5200 | WE210M

Kathy Strause | | 230-5040 | RFA242

Sheryl Strother | | 230-5550 | SWATLC

Anita Williams | | 230-5304 | MO316

Beth Wyatt | | 230-5274 | ED246

This Criterion can too readily be understood in the functional context of many organizations of higher learning: It must be about the extension program or the continuing education wing or the customized training depart- ment. It is, to be sure, about these components, but the Commission’s interest in engagement is much broader. Attention to engagement is woven throughout these Criteria, for it constitutes a basic understanding that an orga- nization affiliated with the Commission cares deeply about how its work intersects with the lives of individuals on and off campus and with local, national, and global organizations. The Commission’s interest is directly related to its mission: “serving the common good by assuring and advancing the quality of higher learning.”

Although some contemporary political thinking might hold that higher education is a private rather than a public good, the Commission continues to believe that higher education is an asset of incalculable worth to society as well as to individuals. Whether students attend public, private, or proprietary colleges and universities, they move into a society that expects to benefit from the learning achieved, from the knowledge created, and from the values of social responsibility inculcated. If colleges and universities have erred in the past half century, it has been in marginalizing the importance of their engagement in serving the common good.

The academy is being buffeted by social and economic changes beyond its control. It is asked to understand and respond to those changes. This Criterion posits that effective engagement with society is a dialogue that involves the organization at multiple points and levels. Moreover, it posits that services considered by all to be valuable and beneficial constitute evidence of effective engagement.

In the first Criterion, the Commission calls for an organization to make explicit how it defines its constituencies and the service it intends to provide them. This fifth Criterion repeats that call but asks for evidence that the organiza- tion lives up to its mission.

Criterion Five: Core Component 5a

The organization learns from the constituencies it serves and analyzes its capacity to serve their needs and expectations.

There is an expectation in this Core Component that an organization affiliated with the Commission will be proac- tive in relations with its constituencies. Assuming that the organization has a clear sense of who constitutes its constituencies, this proposes that an engaged institution tries to listen to them to discern their educational needs. This Core Component deliberately did not use the words “the organization identifies the needs of its constituents.” Engagement involves an interaction that leads to results of mutual benefit.

Effective engagement also requires careful consideration of whether and how the organization can—or should— meet all the expectations. The hard fact is that many organizations lack the capacity to respond to every educa- tional need around them. Not every need, therefore, is automatically an opportunity to be grasped. There are times that organizational mission alone precludes a positive response. More often, the organization needs to be clear about whether it can fulfill the need or should offer to find other organizations better equipped to respond. Usually it is not hard for an organization that is eager to serve to identify unmet educational needs. But the organization should be clear about whether those needs come from its clearly identified constituency and, if so, whether the organization can reasonably meet them.

Many colleges and universities have created distinct administrative or educational units to respond to external constituency needs. At the very least, such organizations need to evaluate the effectiveness of those units both in identifying the appropriate needs and in creating and delivering training and education to meet them.

Examples of Evidence

● The organization’s commitments are shaped by its mission and its capacity to support those commitments.
● The organization practices periodic environmental scanning to understand the changing needs of its
constituencies and their communities.
● The organization demonstrates attention to the diversity of the constituencies it serves.
● The organization’s outreach programs respond to identified community needs.
● In responding to external constituencies, the organization is well-served by programs such as continuing
education, outreach, customized training, and extension services.

Criterion Five: Core Component 5b

 The organization has the capacity and the commitment to engage with its identified constituencies and communities.

It is worth noting that capacity appears in two of the Core Components for this Criterion. Over the last thirty years, many organizations accredited by the Commission have moved their educational offerings off campus into high schools, learning centers, shopping malls, branch campuses, and other locations. In so doing, they have dramati- cally increased access to higher education. Capacity can be a real challenge to being responsive, no matter how strong the commitment. Some colleges clearly have capacity but have no strong overarching organizational com- mitment that enables them to make use of it.

An effective college or university is able to define its primary constituents and communities. For many, geography essentially defines both. For others, both are defined more by shared beliefs. Some more specialized colleges serve both a professional community and a specific business or industry. In an era of intense competition for students and finances, constituencies and communities of service can become extraordinarily fluid. Community colleges, once clear about who their constituents were, now use the Internet to identify constituents in a global rather than local community. Several liberal arts colleges continue to have small residential campuses but have hundreds or thousands of students enrolled in their programs in foreign countries. Regional public universities use technology to expand their constituencies to include many outside the region and the state. The risk of such fluid definitions of constituencies is that none might be served adequately.

A connected organization strives to serve constituencies by creating connections among them as well. Service learning programs, for example, now appear on many campuses. Faculty, students, and external constituencies of the college collaborate in creating activities directly connecting student learning with serving community needs.

Examples of Evidence

● The organization’s structures and processes enable effective connections with its communities.
● The organization’s cocurricular activities engage students, staff, administrators, and faculty with exter-
nal communities.
● The organization’s educational programs connect students with external communities.
● The organization’s resources—physical, financial, and human—support effective programs of engage- ment and service.
● Planning processes project ongoing engagement and service.

Criterion Five: Core Component 5c

The organization demonstrates its responsiveness to those constituencies that depend on it for service.

For the most part, it is the college or university, not the Commission, that determines its constituencies. But organi- zations of higher learning must accept some constituencies as theirs, and recognize that they have a responsibility toward these constituencies. Perhaps the constituencies most talked about are elementary and secondary educa- tion systems. From those systems come students for our colleges and universities; from our colleges and universi- ties come the teachers for those systems. More and more high school graduates believe that college is necessary for their future success, and increasing numbers of them matriculate. The lack of fit is evident as developmental courses balloon in numbers and enrollments and as course and degree completion rates stagnate. Responsibility for this must be shared, and many colleges are helping high schools in their region bring their students to mutually accepted standards of performance.

In many rural sections of the North Central region, communities have come to depend on a single college, or two or three reasonably closely located institutions, for educational services. The willingness of those institutions to collaborate to create seamless pathways for many kinds of learners is strong evidence of engagement and service. Sometimes the collaboration must involve local business or industry as the best partner, while at other times the most effective partner could be a college hundreds of miles away that is willing to collaborate in creating programs needed by the community. Participating in the creation of multiorganizational higher learning centers is a good ex- ample of responding to educational needs by drawing on the strengths of several different colleges and universities. In our urban areas, many colleges find their constituencies shifting simply because the demographics of the local population shifts. Suddenly there might be a major demand for educational services that, by mission and commit- ment, they want to provide, but that they are ill-equipped to handle. It is a testimony to engagement when such colleges show creativity in effectively compensating for their lack of preparedness.

The Commission does not dictate organizational policies and procedures for accepting transfer credits, but it holds that good practice requires the consideration of more than the source of the accreditation of a sending program or institution. The team will review the organization’s transfer of credit policies as a part of its visit. The Commission encourages organizations to review transfer policies and procedures periodically to ensure clarity for those who administer them, for the students who follow them, and for employers and other stakeholders who refer to them, as well as the consistency of their interpretation and application throughout the institution. The organization should also consider whether its policies and procedures are responsive to new types of learning opportunities outside institutions of higher education.

Examples of Evidence

● Collaborative ventures exist with other higher learning organizations and education sectors (e.g., K-12 partnerships, articulation arrangements, 2+2 programs).
● The organization’s transfer policies and practices create an environment supportive of the mobility of learners.
● Community leaders testify to the usefulness of the organization’s programs of engagement.
● The organization’s programs of engagement give evidence of building effective bridges among diverse
● The organization participates in partnerships focused on shared educational, economic, and social goals.
● The organization’s partnerships and contractual arrangements uphold the organization’s integrity.

Criterion Five: Core Component 5d

Internal and external constituencies value the services the organization provides.

This Core Component calls for evaluation, but it sets the measure of usefulness and effectiveness of service as the value external and internal constituencies find in it. Perhaps being able to attend an organization’s theater pro- ductions or to participate in forums and workshops on health care, child care, gerontology, tax filing, drug depen- dency, and welfare benefits are of value to members of the community. Moreover, the organization or members in it should also find value in extending these opportunities. While the numbers of partners might testify to the value the external community places in an organization’s service learning programs, it is important to know whether students and faculty value the learning achieved through those programs. Sometimes the measures of values differ.

For example, professionals will value a program to gain license-mandated CEUs; the organization may value the income derived from providing the program. At the center of this Criterion and this Core Component is the expectation that organizations affiliated with the Commission take seriously their unique role in providing services to their communities of interest. As important and common as they may be, blood drives, participation in the United Way, and voter registration programs are evidence of service, but may lack the sense of engagement. Because the Commission accredits such a breadth of organizations and because those organizations have exceptionally different constituencies to serve, there cannot be an expectation that all will provide similar services. A comprehensive community college, for example, may offer many customized training programs; a selective liberal arts college may provide a strong alumni educational pro- gram; and a specialized school of applied health may connect with public clinics.

Examples of Evidence

● The organization’s evaluation of services involves the constituencies served.
● Service programs and student, faculty, and staff volunteer activities are well-received by the communi-
ties served.
● The organization’s economic and workforce development activities are sought after and valued by civic and business leaders.
● External constituents participate in the organization’s activities and cocurricular programs open to the public.
● The organization’s facilities are available to and used by the community.
● The organization provides programs to meet the continuing education needs of licensed professionals
in its community. 

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Matt is the director of economic development for Williamson County, Tennessee. He works to bring and maintain businesses into the county to create new jobs. Matt credits his education at Henderson and the Honors College, for preparing him for his career. “These days companies look for employees who can think for themselves, solve problems, communicate effectively, and work in teams. Every honors class I had at Henderson taught me how to do all four.”

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Matt LargenBachelor of Arts - Psychology, 1977
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