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Highlands drops appeal on accreditation

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By David Giuliani

Highlands University has dropped its appeal of a ruling by an agency that evaluates the School of Education.

Highlands will no longer have its accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, or NCATE.

University officials assure the public that it is a specialty accreditation and that all of its education programs remain fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges and by the state Public Education Department.

“The decision will in no way affect our students’ ability to obtain teacher licensure or to continue on to a master’s program,” Kathy Jenkins, interim dean of the School of Education, said in a statement this week.

Jenkins said the Learning Commission accreditation, not the NCATE accreditation, gives students the ability to be licensed in New Mexico and other states.

A team from NCATE visited the School of Education in 2004 and gave the school passing grades for five of six standards. But the agency said the university needed to improve its assessment system of its students and programs.

A 2006 visit from NCATE concluded that improvements in the assessment system had been made but weren’t enough to meet the agency’s standards.

“At no time has the quality of our curriculum, the quality of the preparation of students for the teaching profession or the quality of our faculty been questioned by NCATE. This is purely a matter dealing with our assessment system,” Jenkins said.

Highlands President Jim Fries said in the statement that changes made since 2006 would not have been considered in the appeal process.

“While the university would prefer to retain its NCATE accreditation, we have elected to withdraw our appeal and focus our energies on the several ambitious initiatives currently under way to strengthen services for our students and school districts throughout the region,” Fries stated.

Jenkins reported that major improvements have been made in the centralization of the department’s data system, and the department is creating a Web-based mentoring system for graduates entering the teaching profession. The Web mentoring system is being developed with the collaboration of AP New Mexico, a program providing college-level coursework in high schools, she said.

Schools with NCATE accreditation in New Mexico are Eastern New Mexico University, Western New Mexico University, University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University.