Higher Learning Commission

Policy Title: Special Monitoring

Number: INST.F.20.010

The Commission reserves the right to call for special monitoring when the integrity of the institution and its educational programs might be in jeopardy. The President may conduct such monitoring by calling for a special report or an advisory team visit, by imposing a designation or by calling for other activities intended to gather further information about situations at institutions that give rise to concerns about the integrity of the institution or its educational programs. The President of the Commission shall determine whether the institutional liaison or other Commission staff member will accompany the Advisory Team Visit. 

A special report or advisory team report, including any specified deficiencies identified by the team at the institution, will not be reviewed through the Commission’s regular review processes; it may be used by the President to provide information, to support a recommendation by the President to the Commission’s decision-making processes for a possible sanction or monitoring, or for any other purpose supported by the policies and practices of the Commission. The President may seek external assistance from peer reviewers or individuals with appropriate expertise who do not participate as peer reviewers in the evaluation process but provide particularized advice and assistance where appropriate to Commission staff or evaluation team members. 

Any action proposed by the President will be shared with the institution for response at least two weeks prior to the intended date of deliberation and decision. Among the situations that might result in such monitoring are:

  1. institutional declaration of bankruptcy, financial exigency, or intent to close;

  2. highly publicized and divisive controversies among the governing board, the administration, and/or the faculty or the student body;

  3. significant unanticipated reduction in program offering, faculty, and/or enrollment;

  4. public sanctions applied by governmental agencies or by other accrediting or licensing bodies;

  5. serious legal, financial, or ethical investigations, including those involving adjudication in courts;

  6. financial audit reports that raise serious concerns about financial viability or financial management practices;

  7. serious misrepresentation to students and the public.

Presidential Recommendation

The Commission’s President shall have the authority to take a recommendation to the appropriate Commission decision-making body to require regular monitoring, a sanction, or withdrawal of accreditation for an institution, subject to Commission policy and procedures related to those actions. 

Institutional Designations

Financial Distress. The Commission’s President, after consultation with the Board of Trustees, shall have the authority to determine that an institution undergoing a significant challenge to its fiscal capacity should receive this designation. Conditions that may contribute to a designation of in financial distress include, but are not limited to: significant diminished financial contribution from a state; significant escalation in institutional indebtedness; placement by the U.S. Department of Education on Heightened Cash Monitoring for significant reasons related to finances or financial management of the institution or any parent or superordinate entity; formal declaration by the institution of financial exigency or emergency; going concern warning by the institution’s auditors; or other similar financial situation. Typically, this designation will be accompanied by a finding by the Commission President that Core Component 5.A or 2.A is met with concerns.

Governmental Investigation. The Commission’s President, after consultation with the Board of Trustees, shall have the authority to determine that an institution undergoing investigations by one or more governmental agency, law enforcement body, or court should receive this designation. Conditions that may contribute to a designation of under governmental investigation include, but are not limited to: investigation by one or more state attorneys general, the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice or other federal agency; a notice of intended limitation, suspension or termination action by the U.S. Department of Education; or other significant investigations, litigation or enforcement action by or joined by a governmental authority related to its institutional or academic operations or activities. Typically, this designation will be accompanied by a finding that Core Component 2.A is met with concerns. 

Purpose and Other Details Related to Institutional Designations. The purpose of these designations shall be to inform the public that the institution is dealing with a significant financial condition(s) or being investigated by a governmental agency. Such situations have the potential to affect the institution’s operations, and the public should be aware of this information in making a decision to attend or continue to attend the institution under the designation. Any designation issued by the Commission President shall be public.

Typically, the designation will not extend more than two years. During this period the Commission shall require that the institution submit regular reports about its financial or legal situation or undergo other regular or special monitoring, including Advisory Visits, as determined by the Commission President. An institution that has one of the above designations is not precluded from also being placed by the Commission on a sanction if appropriate. During the monitoring or evaluation process, the institution may request removal of the designation, although final determination of the appropriateness of removing the designation shall remain with the Commission President or the Board if the case is otherwise subject to the Board’s review.

Substantive Change While an Institution Has a Designation. An institution in financial distress or under governmental investigation shall not be considered for a substantive change unless it can demonstrate that there is a compelling reason for the change and that the institution has sufficient resources to support the change. Any substantive change application from an institution with a current designation will be subject to strict scrutiny and may be deferred by staff or by the Institutional Actions Council for consideration by HLC after it has removed the designation, or the application may be denied.

Process for Imposing or Removing a Designation 

The Commission’s President will notify the institution of the intent to designate the institution in one of the above categories and will allow the institution a minimum of two weeks to respond before acting with regard to the proposed designation. (Note that the institution may request up to an additional two weeks to respond if it has good cause for such an extension.) The President will take into account the institution’s response in making the decision whether to impose the designation. All designations are public. The President or the Board will also determine when to remove a designation from an institution. The President will re-evaluate the designation at the end of the two-year timeframe, and during the two-year timeframe as new or additional information of significance becomes available to the Commission, to determine whether the designation shall be removed. The President or the Board will remove the designation when in the President’s or Board’s sole judgment the designation is no longer required because the institution has resolved the issues that led to the designation. Any decision of the President or the Board related to imposing or removing a designation is final.

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Related Policies

Staff Role and Responsibility

Policy History

Last Revised: August 2016 
First Adopted: November 1999
Revision History: February 2001, February 2007, June 2012, November 2012, August 2016
Notes: Former policy number 3.6(b), 3.6(c)

Policy Number Key

Section INST: Institutional Policies

Chapter F: Maintenance and Monitoring

Part 20: Intermittent Monitoring


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