Open Pathway Overview

The Open Pathway is one of three options institutions have for maintaining their accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). It follows a 10-year cycle and is focused on quality assurance and institutional improvement. The Open Pathway is unique in that its improvement component, the Quality Initiative, affords institutions the opportunity to pursue improvement projects that meet their current needs and aspirations.


The Open Pathway’s 10-year cycle includes the following institutional reviews:

     Years 1-3: Prepare Assurance Filing

Institutions submit an annual Institutional Update, which is reviewed by HLC to monitor organizational health, comply with certain federal requirements, and identify any changes that may require HLC follow up. HLC will also apply change processes as appropriate to planned institutional developments, and will monitor institutions through reports, visits and other means as it deems appropriate.

     Year 4: Assurance Review

Institutions complete an Assurance Review to ensure they are continuing to meet HLC’s Criteria for Accreditation. The institution provides documentation demonstrating how it fulfills each Criterion and Core Component. A peer review team evaluates these materials and recommends whether the institution should continue in the cycle or whether additional monitoring is required. HLC’s Institutional Actions Council (IAC) reviews and takes official action on the recommendation.

     Years 5-9: Quality Initiative Proposal and Report

Institutions design and undertake a Quality Initiative project. HLC peer reviewers approve an initial project proposal, as well as a report on the outcomes of the project.

     Year 10: Comprehensive Evaluation

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. This review leads to an action regarding the reaffirmation of the institution’s accreditation.