HLC Open Pathway

Information taken from the Higher Learning Commission website

Open Pathway Overview

The Open Pathway is one of two options institutions have for maintaining their accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). It follows a 10-year cycle that 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 components:

Regular Monitoring

  • 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.

Years 1-3: Prepare Assurance Filing

  • Institutions contribute documents to the Evidence File and begin to write the Assurance Argument in preparation for the Year 4 Assurance Review. 

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 5-7: Quality Initiative Proposal 

  • Institutions submits a Quality Initiative Proposal for HLC approval. The proposal will be accepted beginning September 1 of Year 5. It is due no later than June 1 of Year 7 of the Open Pathway cycle. 

Years 5-9: Quality Initiative

  • The Open Pathway requires an institution to designate one major improvement effort it has undertaken during its 10-year accreditation cycle as it Quality Initiative (QI). The QI takes place between Years 5 and 9 of the 10-year Open Pathway cycle. A QI project may be started and completed during this time, or it may be a project that is already in progress or an achievement of a key milestone in the work of a longer initiative. The Quality Initiative is intended to allow institutions to take risks, aim high and learn from success, only partial success or even failure. 

Years 7-9: Quality Initiative Report

  • At the end of the Quality Initiative, an institution writes its Quality Initiative Report. The report offers the institution the opportunity to reflect on what it has accomplished, to document the achievements and strategies used, and to define new priorities and challenges. The Quality Initiative Report is due no later than June 1 of Year 9 of the Open Pathway cycle. 

Year 10: Comprehensive Evaluation for Reaffirmation

  • 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.