Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions about Accreditation at Red Rocks Community College

What is accreditation?

  • In the United States, accreditation is the primary process for assuring and improving the quality of higher education institutions. Regional accreditation traces its roots to 1885.  However, it became a more integral part of higher education in 1952 with the reauthorization of the GI Bill®*, which covered the cost of tuition and living expenses for veterans of the Korean War.
  • Accreditation of higher education institutions in the United States has traditionally been a peer review process, coordinated and regulated by member institutions (colleges, universities, etc.). The United States is divided into six geographic regions and for each there is a single regional accreditor. Each regional accreditor is responsible for accrediting the majority (if not all) of the public and private post-secondary education institutions located within the region.

*GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at

Who are the regional accreditors and which states do they serve?

  • The regional accreditors include the following.
    • Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands)
    • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont)
    • Higher Learning Commission (Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming)
    • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington)
    • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (California, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Micronesia, Palau, and Northern Marianas Islands)
    • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, and Texas)

Why is accreditation important?

College accreditation is a guarantee that a college or program meets certain principles and provides quality education.

  • It gives the assurance that you will be able to attain definite educational outcomes.
  • It pledges that you'll get qualified instructors and high quality up-to-date curriculum.
  • Without accreditation by a recognized accredited organization, a school and its students are not eligible to participate in government student assistance programs like federal grants and loans.
  • Most employers who offer tuition assistance will not reimburse your tuition if you attend a school that is not accredited.
  • Most employers will look at a degree from an institution with accreditation as a credential demonstrating motivation and quality education.
  • If you intend to transfer credits to another college, you are required to attend an accredited school.

How is Red Rocks Community College accredited?

Red Rocks is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). HLC has four different pathways to accreditation.  These are Candidate for Accreditation, the Standard Pathway, the Open Pathway, and the Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP). Note that the former PEAQ pathway based on self-study no longer exists. In 2003, RRCC voted to join the Academic Quality Improvement Program, a new reaccreditation and quality improvement process sponsored by the Higher Learning Commission. In taking this vote, RRCC committed itself to continuous and recurring quality improvement based on valid performance measures, reliable assessment data, and employment of those data in improving our college.

Are all Red Rocks programs automatically accredited through AQIP?

No.  While accreditation at the institutional level is necessary, national entities also accredit some Red Rocks programs.  These include the following:

  • Childhood Education - The Early Childhood Education program at Red Rocks Community College is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
  • Emergency and Public Safety Programs - The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment approves the Emergency Management Services Program at Red Rocks Community College. The Firefighter I Academy is approved through the Colorado Division of Fire Safety, and the Law Enforcement Academy is approved by the Colorado Peace Officers Standards and Training Board (POST).
  • Medical Assisting Program - The Red Rocks Community College Medical Assisting Certificate Program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs ( (link is external)) upon the recommendation of MAERB. Our Medical Assisting AAS Degree meets all Colorado state accreditation requirements.
  • Medical Imaging Program - The Red Rocks Community College Radiologic Technology Program is accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)
  • Nurse Aid - The Nurse Aid Program at Red Rocks Community College is accredited by the Colorado State Board of Nursing (DORA).
  • Physician Assistant Program - The Red Rocks Community College Physician Assistant Program is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).

How is AQIP different from the other Pathways?

Launched by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) in 1999, the program offers an alternative reaccreditation pathway emphasizing continuous quality improvement. The HLC Handbook for Accreditation summarizes the program as follows: "The Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP) infuses the principles and benefits of continuous improvement into the culture of colleges and universities by providing an alternative process through which an already-accredited institution can maintain its accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission. For more information, please visit the AQIP website.

How does AQIP work?

AQIP works on an eight-year cycle which has the following activities, documents, and reviews.

  • An annual institutional report along with Substantive Change processes for new sites and programs.
  • An annual action project that Red Rocks believes will have the most impact on quality improvement.  RRCC has conducted many such action projects in the past, resulting in many features regarded as central to the life of the college today.  For more information see
  • Strategy Forums in Years 1 or 2, and 5 or 6 help the college focus on strategic quality improvement priorities.  The last Strategy Forum resulted in an action project to develop Common Learning Outcomes.  The next will be in May, 2018.  For more information see
  • System Portfolios in Years 3 and 7 is a comprehensive document of how Red Rocks addresses the HLC criteria through key processes, assessment of results, and quality improvements.  A peer review team conducts a Systems Appraisal to evaluate these materials and recommends whether the institution should continue in the cycle and whether any monitoring is required.  The most recent System Portfolio was submitted and reviewed in 2016 (see We need to respond to the appraisal in our upcoming Comprehensive Quality Review, the last stage of the AQIP cycle. 
  • At the end of the eight-year cycle, institutions undergo a comprehensive evaluation to ensure they are meeting the Criteria for Accreditation, pursuing institutional improvement, and complying with certain requirements set by the U.S. Department of Education. The evaluation includes a Comprehensive Quality Review (CQR) report, a review of Federal Compliance Requirements, a student opinion survey, and an on-site visit by a team of HLC peer reviewers. This review leads to an action regarding the reaffirmation of the institution’s accreditation.  Our CQR visit is scheduled in November 2018.
  • Note that a Comprehensive Quality Review may also occur in Year 4 if significant concerns arise from a prior evaluation or the Systems Portfolio and Appraisal processes in Year 3, or upon institutional request or HLC determination.

What are the most important areas we need to address for the Comprehensive Quality Review?

The appraisal of the 2016 Systems Portfolio mentioned many areas where RRCC could improve.  However, there are five areas that are especially important.

  • Systemic Assessment of Student Program Learning Outcomes;
  • Systemic Assessment of Student Common Learning Outcomes (including Co-Curricular);
  • Alignment of Student Learning and Support Needs with Planning and Budgeting;
  • Alignment of College Quality Improvement and Governance with Planning and Budgeting;
  • Documentation of assessment results and decision making for all the above.

The five areas above are essential and college-wide. As such, we will need support across the college this year to show progress.  Note that the five areas are not ends in themselves, but the means to quality improvement.  Likewise, just assessing outcomes won’t result in improvement.  We assess to improve student learning, student development, and the learning environment at RRCC. Getting results, using them to improve, and documenting our actions are fundamental to get ready for our Review, and to continue the AQIP cycle in the future.

How does the Higher Learning Commission evaluate whether we should be reaffirmed for accreditation?

The Higher Learning Commission accredits AQIP institutions using (1) Assumed Institutional Practices, (2) Criteria and Core Components for Accreditation, and (3) AQIP processes, results, and improvements from the Systems Portfolio and all the other parts of the AQIP cycle.  Note that the System Portfolio also covers the Criteria for Accreditation under one or more of the six System Portfolio Categories.

What are the Assumed Practices and the HLC Criteria and Core Components?

The Assumed Practices are a checklist of minimum standards that are shared by all institutions of higher education in the United States.  The Criteria and Core Components for Accreditation are also standards of quality, but will vary somewhat by institutional mission or context.   Taken together, they are the “What” by which HLC determines whether an institution merits accreditation.  Each Criterion has Core Components.  In the AQIP Pathway, the Criteria and the Core Components are addressed under each of the AQIP Categories.  The five Criteria are given below.

  • Mission
  • Integrity:  Ethical and Responsible Conduct
  • Teaching and Learning:  Quality, Resources, and Support
  • Teaching and Learning:  Evaluation and Improvement
  • Resources, Planning, and Institutional Effectiveness

Visit the Higher Learning Commission website for more information on Assumed Practices or the Criteria and Core Components under each Criterion.

What are the six AQIP Categories?

While all the parts of the AQIP Cycle are used in the Comprehensive Evaluation, the six AQIP Categories are particularly important.  They are the “How” by which an institution puts the Criteria for Accreditation into practice. The Systems Portfolio covers the six AQIP Categories, describing processes, results, and improvement in each of the institution’s systems, and shows evidence that the institution continues to meet HLC's five Criteria for Accreditation.

  • Helping Students Learn
  • Meeting Student and Other Key Stakeholder Needs
  • Valuing Employees
  • Planning and Leading
  • Knowledge Management and Resource Stewardship
  • Building a Continuous Quality Improvement Culture

See the Higher Learning Commission website for more information on the six AQIP Categories.

How does HLC evaluate the six AQIP Categories in the System Portfolio?

HLC appraises the processes and results documented in a Systems Portfolio using a Systems Maturity rubric with four stages:  Reactive, Systemic, Aligned, and Integrated. 

  • At the Reactive Stage, a college focuses on activities and initiatives that respond to immediate needs or problems, rather than anticipating future needs or changes. Goals are implicit and poorly defined, and review processes tend to be informal and not well documented.
  • At the Systemic Stage, the college is beginning to operate using understood, repeatable, and documented processes.  Goals are explicit, measurable, and subject to improvement.  Internal silos are eroding and effective practices across units are evident.
  • At the Aligned Stage, processes are explicit, repeatable, and periodically assessed for improvement. Measures, metrics, and benchmarks have shared usage, and beneficial trends are sustained over time. Lessons learned are also shared among college operating units.
  • At the Integrated Stage, processes in and between units operate at optimum effectiveness through data analysis, transparency, innovation and sharing.  Performance levels are monitored using benchmarks, and trend data is accrued for most areas of performance, especially decision making and resource allocation.

As of the last Systems Appraisal, RRCC was operating at the Reactive to Systemic Stage of Maturity for most Processes and Results. Our general goal is to become more Systemic.

What does the Higher Learning Commission expect colleges to do about outcomes assessment?

As an AQIP school, RRCC needs to answer the question “How do we know what we need to do to improve?”  Assessment refers to how we answer that question – the inquiry methods, results, and decisions we make to determine if we have accomplished our desired outcomes. HLC expects us to “close the loop” among planning, assessment, and budgeting.  The key to this is to document clear evidence that instruction, student success, and administrative units:

  • Define desired outcomes;
  • Have a consistent, ongoing process to review whether these outcomes are achieved;
  • Act to continuously improve processes, especially through resource allocation.

While student learning outcomes are at the heart of our Mission, not all unit outcomes are directly about student learning.  Student success also sets outcomes for student development. Administrative and business services outcomes create and maintain effective physical, technological, and fiscal learning environments for the college.

Is the Guaranteed Pathways (GT Pathways) program in Colorado equivalent to what HLC means by General Education?

No. GT Pathways is a series of articulation agreements for approved transfer courses to four-year Colorado institutions.  General education refers to the specific Common Learning Outcomes we want all RRCC students to learn by the time they complete their certificate or degree.  HLC Criteria specify that the general education program of a college should be appropriate to the Mission, have intended student learning outcomes which are assessed, and imparts broad knowledge, intellectual concepts, and skills and attitudes that the institution believes every college-educated person should possess. General Education is the educational foundation that prepares students for success in their major program, and in their career and personal lives after graduation.