Higher Learning Commission


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Institutional Change and Accreditation Status

The Commission recognizes that change at institutions of higher learning is constant, and it supports change to improve educational quality. The Commission has defined specific conditions under which the institution needs to obtain authorization before implementing changes because they may affect accreditation.

Update: New Expectations for Competency-Based Education

On December 19, 2014, the U.S. Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague Letter (GEN-14-23) that set new expectations for accreditors with regard to the approval of direct assessment and competency-based programs. In addition, HLC has been under audit by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Education related to its review of direct assessment programs, and new expectations for HLC's approval protocols are arising out of the audit process.  

The U.S. Department of Education has made a commitment to provide clearer guidelines by June 1, 2015. To that end, HLC has determined it must wait until receiving those guidelines before changing its protocols for review of direct assessment and establishing new protocols for review and approval of competency-based education. HLC will provide new protocols as quickly as possible after we receive the guidelines from the Department.

These changes are important to quality assurance, and they reflect the requirements now expected of regional accreditation. HLC has removed its application for new direct assessment programs from its website pending revision.

Please contact your staff liaison if you have questions. 

Commission Policies on Institutional Change

In June 2010, the Commission’s Board of Trustees approved new and updated policies on substantive change. These policies are:

Institutional Change - INST.F.20.040

Review of Institutional Change - INST.F.20.050

Monitoring of Institutional Change - INST.F.20.060

An institution’s Institutional Status and Requirements Report (ISR) identifies any stipulations that may affect the institutional change process. An ISR may be requested by an institution's CEO or Accreditation Liaison Officer.

Procedure Overview

Any affiliated institution may request at any time Commission review of changes it plans to introduce. The only institutions limited in this regard are those appealing a decision of the Commission. The change process can take anywhere from ninety days to eight months depending on the breadth of the change and the appropriate approval process. Review the Commission's Overview of Substantive Change for complete information regarding the change process.

Based on the category of change, the institution may be required to:

  1. receive Prior Commission Approval
  2. submit Notification to the Commission, or
  3. participate in the Notification Program for Additional Locations if the institution has received Commission permission.

Prior Commission approval. Institutions will apply for and obtain prior Commission approval for the following changes:

  • New Program
  • Certificate Program
  • Clock or Credit Hour
  • Branch Campuses and Additional Locations
  • Distance Delivery
  • Contractual Arrangements
  • Consortial Arrangements
  • Mission or Student Body
  • Length of Term Affecting Allocation of Credit

Changes requiring Commission notification are detailed in Commission Policy Defining Institutional Change. Institutions will notify the Commission of changes requiring Commission notification through the Institutional Update or through scheduled Commission evaluations.

Notification Program for Additional Locations. The following application is for institutions actively managing more than three locations and would like access to the Commission's Notification Program. To apply, an institution must have evidence based on at least three active, Commission-approved additional locations.

Application for the Notification Program for Additional Locations

Any institution affiliated with the Commission that is in the process of closing an existing location or branch campus is obliged to provide for the welfare of enrolled students who have invested their time, energy, and money in attending the institution. The institution documents its preparations through a Teach-Out Plan. The institution is required to inform the Commission of its circumstances and to receive formal Commission approval of the Teach-Out Plan prior to initiating it.

Teach Out of an Existing Location or Branch Campus

The Commission does not review or approve the arrangements an institution makes for enrolled students when it is discontinuing a program of study, but it expects that appropriate arrangements will be made.


Most change processes are subject to a fee. Visit the Fee Schedule for questions about the costs attributed to the Institutional Change process.

The Commission has developed a cost estimator for comprehensive visits and focused visits based on the fee schedule for the fiscal year 2012–2013.



Apply for Approval of a Substantive Change

Curricular Change:


(For two-year institutions seeking to offer the baccalaureate degree, please review HLC's related guidelines.)

Clock or Credit Hours

Certificate Programs
Screenshots are available for this online form. Institutions can submit up to 10 certificates for the flat fee of $825 if they do it in one batch or within the same month.

Length of Term Affecting Allocation of Credit

Location or Modality:

Branch Campuses and Additional Locations

Distance Delivery
Only offering courses? Fill out this survey.




Definitions of Third-party Arrangements

Other Change:

Mission or Student Body


Location and Campus Update System

This system is to be used by Accreditation Liaison Officers for updating existing additional locations and existing branch campuses. Institutions in the Notification Program for Additional Locations may also use this application to add additional locations. To add an additional location, institutions will apply for and obtain prior Commission approval through the Substantive Change process, unless they are in the Notification Program. At this time, the system is limited for use by Accreditation Liaison Officers.



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