At its annual conference held in Philadelphia, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) unveiled a draft of its proposed standards that would replace the existing 14 standards. Conference participants were invited to submit feedback. A number of Town Hall-style meetings will be held over the coming months to gather additional perspectives. Afterward, a revised draft will be presented to the full Commission for its June 2014 meeting. Should the Commission vote in favor of the new standards, the MSCHE’s full membership (its institutions) will vote on the proposed standards. A favorable vote would be followed by a phased implementation of the new standards.
The new standards will not require schools to start anew in documenting their accreditation-related activities. The overriding theme of continual improvement is retained in the new standards. As a result, even as the new standards provide institutions with greater flexibility in pursuing opportunities for improvement and innovation, there is a large degree of continuity with the existing standards. Many, but not all, elements from the existing standards have been retained in the seven new standards contained in the draft. In addition, to avoid any ambiguity, each of the new standards contains an assessment element consistent with the idea that institutions should regularly assess all of their activities, as well as their mission, vision, and values, to enable them to address the challenges and realize the opportunities in a dynamic higher education environment.
For purposes of planning a transition, it makes sense to provide an overall map of how the new standards and existing ones are related.
Given the sentiment at the conference, it appears likely that the draft standards will be adopted, perhaps following some modest changes in language. No proverbial “deal-breakers” surfaced during the two discussions held on the draft standards. The biggest issues concerned the allocation of elements from the existing standards to the new ones e.g., the role of faculty (present in draft standards 3 and 7 rather than a single standard devoted to faculty). Therefore, it makes sense for institutions whose self-study reports lie 3-5 years in the future to at least begin considering documentation of their accreditation and improvement activities in the context of the proposed new standards.
For institutions using a software vendor such as Taskstream (Lehman College uses Taskstream) to facilitate the management of their planning and assessment data, the transition will likely be smoother for at least three reasons. First, the vendor will adapt its solutions to ensure that they meet the requirements of the new accreditation environment. Second, the vendor will be responsive to the institution’s needs and a team working together, college and vendor in this case, toward a common end can be more effective than a single player during such transitions. Third, the existence of data related to accreditation and improvement activities in a common place allows for greater emphasis on developing and refining the reports necessary to meet the new accreditation requirements. Data scattered widely in different formats and/or locked away in silos increases the degree of difficulty in managing such transitions.