Salina Tech Earns Higher Learning Commission Accreditation

Salina Area Technical College has earned numerous recognitions in recent years, including the Chronicle of Higher Education placing the college in the top 1 percent nationally for its graduation rate and the Aspen Institute consistently ranking it among the top 10 percent of two-year colleges nationwide.

But the most important recognition was announced Friday: Salina Tech has earned its accreditation from the Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission.

Salina Tech is on what the Higher Learning Commission calls its “Standard Pathway” for institutions earning their initial accreditation. That process lasts 10 years, and involves a review by the Commission in the fourth year of accreditation. For Salina Tech, that review is scheduled for the 2020-21 academic year.

The accreditation is the result of years of hard work by college faculty and staff, said President Greg Nichols, who called the accreditation “a very important metric that will make many other things possible.”

“We tell our students to work hard, earn those certifications and you will do well,” Nichols said. “By earning this accreditation, we’re modeling that for them. Earning accreditation isn’t easy, and it shouldn’t be.

The most immediate effects of accreditation will be for local high school students and members of the active duty military and National Guard.
Starting with the current fall semester, more than 80 students at Ell-Saline and Southeast of Saline high schools enrolled in a variety of college-level classes, such as English Composition I, College Algebra and General Psychology, in which they can earn both high school and college credit. These courses are known as “concurrent enrollment” courses.

With the HLC accreditation, Nichols said, those students earning those concurrent enrollment credits will have a much easier time transferring those credits to colleges both in Kansas and nationwide.

“I’m excited about what this means for our young people, being able to transfer credits anywhere in the state,” Nichols said, adding that the college is working with other high schools in the Salina area to teach more concurrent classes in more high schools during the 2017-18 school year.

Susan Eberwein, Vice President of Student Services, said accreditation will mean members of the National Guard and active-duty military will now be able to make use of tuition assistance programs to help pay their costs of attending.

Accreditation “is a validation that what we do here meets high standards,” said James Hawley, head of general education at Salina Tech. “The Higher Learning Commission has determined that our program delivery meets or exceeds their standards.”

Because HLC accreditation means a more seamless transfer of college credit earned at Salina Tech, “we’ll be able to create more general education classes that aren’t linked to a degree. It gives us a green light to offer a full range of classes at much less cost that can be transferred elsewhere,” Hawley said. “With accreditation meaning we can expand our general education offerings, we’ll become not just a college for tech students, but also for others — much like a community college.”

“We’re going to offer general education programs that make sense to our institution and its mission,” Nichols said. That mission statement reads: “Salina Area Technical College will meet employment needs of the region by providing a diverse community of learners with the technical and general education skills necessary for employment, personal growth and lifelong learning.”

Story by Mike Strand / Salina Area Technical College