A Look at MSCHE’s Survey on its Draft Accreditation Standards

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) is continuing to collect feedback from those who attended its annual conference in December. Feedback is being collected via SurveyMonkey® and e-mail comments.

The survey asks respondents to provide general comments on the draft. That request is followed by four substantive questions. The focus of these questions likely provides insight into the goals related to the revised standards. The implied goals of the standard revision process appear to be as follows:

  • The standards are sufficiently flexible to apply to the increasingly diverse population of institutions of higher education. This diverse group includes but is not limited to private and public institutions, non-profit and for profit institutions, primarily brick-and-mortar/campus institutions and those providing mainly or wholly online programs, 2- and 4-year institutions, among others.
  • The standards guide institutions in promoting and measuring academic rigor and institutional quality. This question goes to the heart of public and political concerns related to the value of higher education. If effective, the new standards would seek to ensure that accreditation, rather than government regulation, would provide the strongest assurance that colleges and universities are offering real value to their students. If so, that outcome could reduce the likelihood that the federal and/or state governments would enlarge their role in the higher education field as it relates to college and university degrees, programs, and curricula.
  • The standards guide institutions in measuring the quality of the student experience. The draft standards are more student-centric than the existing ones. For example, in the existing standards, an entire standard (Standard 10) is devoted to faculty. The revised draft integrates faculty and their role into a number of standards, in which the faculty are repositioned as a means to an end, and no longer an end in itself. Faculty excellence, governance, and development remain important, but in the context of promoting student success. The emphasis on the student experience includes academics, extracurricular/athletic opportunities, and myriad support services. This emphasis recognizes that despite the diversity of higher education institutions, they have in common that they exist to serve students.
  • The standards should promote continual improvement. Periodic assessment is embedded in each of the new standards. Among the most commonly-cited issues in requests for follow-up reports has concerned whether assessment evidence is used in planning, budgeting, and academic and administrative activities to promote improvement. In a demanding higher education environment, the status quo can adversely impact students. As a result, it is important for institutions to continually improve.
  • The standards should encourage institutional innovation. The higher education environment and elements impacting it are dynamic. Change is a “constant” so to speak. Continual improvement can help institutions meet the demands of their constituents, particularly the students they serve. However, in an environment that is continually changing, improvement, alone, is insufficient. Institutions need to have the flexibility to experiment and innovate to meet the challenges and realize the opportunities created by environmental change.

All said, MSCHE’s overall goal appears to be one in which institutions of higher education provide value (including but not limited to academic rigor) to their most important constituents (students) at present, can sustain their ability to provide value (through continual innovation and improvement), and possess the freedom to do so in a variety of ways (institutional diversity).

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