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Middle States Self-Study Asks: Are We Doing What We Say We Do?
For the past four months, more than 140 members of Syracuse University’s faculty, staff, and student body have been exhaustively scrutinizing nearly every aspect of University programs, operations and services to determine how well it meets the standards and requirements of reaccreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) and how it might do even better.
Seven self-study teams—coinciding with the seven comprehensive standards laid out by Middle States for reaccreditation purposes—and an eighth team focusing on federal compliance have reviewed data and documents and last month produced preliminary reports on their findings and recommendations that will inform the institutional self-study report. After a campuswide comment and engagement period, the draft self-study report is due to Middle States in October so that the chair of the peer review team can review in preparation for a preliminary visit this fall. The final report is due in December with a formal peer review site visit to follow in spring 2018.
“We are so thankful to all the people who served on these teams for all their hard work during this fact-finding phase,” says Rochelle Ford, professor and chair of public relations at the Newhouse School, who chairs the reaccreditation process along with Libby Barlow, assistant vice president for institutional research and assessment, and Jeff Stanton, associate provost for academic affairs. “I know there are always mixed feelings around the Middle States reaccreditation process. On the one hand, it is a very complex and time-consuming process. At the same time, it is absolutely critical to our standing and sustainability as a university. Especially today, as higher education institutions nationwide face increasingly insistent calls for accountability, this reaccreditation process tells the public that Syracuse University actually does what it says it is doing in its mission statement—and has the evidence to back it up.”
Syracuse University must undergo the full reaccreditation process every 10 years and a periodic review every five years in order to retain its Middle States accreditation. In addition to serving as a public indicator of quality and accountability, accreditation is required in order for University students to be eligible for federal aid. The University currently is at the 10-year self-study mark.
The seven Middle States Standards for Accreditation that comprise the bulk of the self-study report are:
- Mission and Goals
- Ethics and Integrity
- Student Learning Opportunities
- Support of the Student Experience
- Educational Effectiveness Assessment
- Planning, Resource and Institutional Improvement
- Governance, Leadership and Administration
These recently revised seven standards emphasize assessment of University operations, student learning and the student experience and a demonstration of continuous improvement in each area. The overarching goal is to ensure that practices relating to each standard align with the University’s publicly stated mission and the ethical standards of higher education culture. Evidence, in the form of assessment data, is required to support findings. According to Middle States, the rigorous reaccreditation process empowers accredited institutions to publicly proclaim that “Our students are well served; society is well served.”
Syracuse currently is at about the halfway mark of the multi-year reaccreditation process. Once the teams’ preliminary reports have been reviewed by the tri-chairs and edited as necessary, they will be reviewed by the Reaccreditation Steering Committee and then incorporated into a first draft of the institutional self-study report. The tri-chairs will be engaging the University Senate and administration throughout the spring semester to address some of the challenges and opportunities raised by the teams and incorporating their feedback into the draft. A campus day of conversation to present preliminary findings is planned for April as well.
That first-draft report will be posted online for campus feedback in April and remain posted through early fall to give ample opportunity for the University community to comment. The feedback will be taken into consideration for incorporation into the final draft report, which will be submitted for initial review to the University’s MSCHE self-study review team chair this fall. The final self-study report is due to Middle States by Dec. 22 and will provide the foundation for the site visit by a team of representatives from peer institutions in spring 2018. That visit, Stanton says, is designed “to bring the self-study report to life and ensure that it accurately reflects what the site team finds when it comes to campus.”
“This is a rigorous, multistep process,” Barlow adds. “But we are making great progress. And the most important piece going forward now is to get as much of the campus community involved as possible during the public feedback period later this spring. That is the best way to ensure that our final report not only reflects what we are doing right by Middle States standards—but also what we can do even better, to more fully meet the desires and expectations of such a vibrant, and vibrantly diverse, campus community.”
For more information on the University’s Middle States reaccreditation process, or to read the weekly Middle States blog, go to middlestates.syr.edu.