By Daniel Johnson, Investigative Reporter
The Universal Design Project is one of the Academic Quality Improvement Programs (AQIP) projects of CNM, which is part of the accreditation pathways with the Higher Learning Commission, said Associate Dean of CHSS, Paula Smith-Hawkins.
UNM, NMSU, and CNM all have accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission, she said.
Smith-Hawkins said the Universal Design Action Project Team was formed in the Fall of 2013 and has an international movement, which is now prominently featured in Higher Education.
“Few community colleges have been part of this conversation, CNM is a leader in this effort so go Suncats,” Smith-Hawkins said.
The program infuses the principles and benefits of continuous improvement of the culture of colleges and universities by providing different choices through which an already-accredited institution can maintain its accreditation, according to ncahlc.org.
A college needs to demonstrate how it meets the accreditation standards and expectations through the events and activities it uses to improve its performance, according to the website.
This concept has been important for architects and developers seeking to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act since the 1970’s, Smith- Hawkins said.
Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler of the University of Washington is considered the national leader for Universal Design in Higher Education, she said.
“Our Team was able to meet with her by video conference back in April of 2014 to discuss the next steps for the Universal Design Project,” Smith-Hawkins said.
The CNM team is reviewing Dr. Burgstahler’s work, which is titled Universal Design in Higher Education over the summer semester, she said.
Concepts like flexible use can prove useful in designing curriculum, just as much as they can when designing buildings, she said.
“Required reading doesn’t go away once you graduate, because we are still doing it on the daily,” Smith-Hawkins said.
The universal Design team wants to be able to introduce and apply the principles of universal design into CNM’s culture by 2015, she said.
The process, developed by a previous CNM AQIP team will involve assessment, planning, implementation, evaluation and integration, she said.
The past year was spent in the assessment or research phase, she said.
“We’ve spent a lot of time researching, reading and meeting with campus leaders with expertise,” Smith-Hawkins said.
As most Business majors know, there are a lot of processes that go into the formation of a team, but even more for a team like the Universal Design Project Team, she said.
“The process is forming, norming, storming and on to performing, so we meet regularly to accomplish the goals that we have set forth for ourselves,” Smith-Hawkins said.
Most projects that are set in motion by a team like Universal Design take three years to be completed from beginning to end, she said.
According to the higher learning commission website at ncahlc. org, the Academic Quality Improvement Programs is one of several pathways leading to confirmation of accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission for different colleges.
AQIP differs from the other pathways because it is based on principles of continuous quality improvements, along with confirming the institution’s accredited status with the Commission once every cycle, according to the website.
Many colleges have reported transforming the quality of time spent at an institution for disabled students since taking on the AQIP Pathway and CNM is one of them.
Colleges in the United States seek accreditation through two types of agencies, institutional and specialized.
National accreditation associations focus on certain types of colleges such as trade and technical institutions like CNM, or religious colleges such as seminaries and bible schools.
Regional accreditation agencies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit degree granting colleges and universities.
Regional accreditation proves the quality of a college as a whole and evaluates things like academic offerings, governance and administration, mission, finances, and resources.
The accreditation process is based on a system of peer reviews, according to the website.
1,300 educators from different colleges serve as peer reviewers and conduct accreditation evaluations for other college.
Peer reviewers also serve on committees that make up the elements of the accreditation process, according to the website.