My Thoughts on MSCHE’s Revised Standards

At its annual conference, MSCHE unveiled a draft of revised standards that would replace the current fourteen standards. Through January 31, 2014, MSCHE collected feedback on its draft via SurveyMonkey®. During that time, I noted that I would share my thoughts in a future blog. Now that the feedback deadline has passed, this blog contains my thoughts.

Overall, I believe the new standards represent a qualitative improvement over the existing standards. First, they logically consolidate what had been separate standards into a smaller set of more comprehensive standards. Second, Context items are replaced with more specific criteria for helping institutions determine whether they are in compliance with given standards. Third, and perhaps most invaluable, the criteria capture some of the most common areas in which institutions fell short of full compliance leading up to requests for follow-up reports.

For illustrative purposes, my blog of January 6 focused on draft Standard V, which would replace existing Standard 14.

In addition, the new standards are more flexible than the existing ones. They are mission-centric and that attribute allows for a diverse range of higher education institutions (non-profit, for profit, public, private, and non-traditional) to gain and retain accreditation. The new standards appropriately recognize that institutions may have different missions, different core constituencies, and different strategic goals. That recognition embraces institutional diversity all the while highlighting the focus on students that is shared in common across higher education.

Assessment is integrated across all the proposed standards. It is clear that every activity and initiative in higher education should be assessed periodically to assure that those activities and initiatives are meeting their goals and purposes. This focus pervasive assessment reminds institutions of higher education that there is no “resting place” when it comes to programs/services. The world is dynamic and institutions must continually improve (if not innovate) to meet the changing demands of the environment in which colleges and universities exist. That need is recognized in proposed Standard III, which contains specific language related to institutions of higher education providing “support for professional growth and innovation” for faculty and professionals.

Finally, beyond my feedback, I believe the new standards add value, because they create a stronger framework for integrating planning, resource allocation, and assessment. Linked processes are the minimum requirements for any institution to possess and sustain a capacity for improvement. Planning focuses an organization's activities toward its strategic goals. Budgets should direct resources in a rational fashion consistent with its plans in order to maximize an organization's chances of meeting its strategic goals. Assessment/performance review allows an organization to gain understanding where problems exist and creates opportunities for early intervention before time/financial/other resource constraints make success improbable or turnaround much more costly.

At the same time, the environment in which organizations operate is dynamic. Hence, flexibility is required. Like with any organization, there is no perfect or permanent structure, system, or methodology that works all the time in all situations. Refinement, modification, and sometimes larger changes are necessary to keep pace with the changing environment. Nevertheless, a rational, organized, and focused system and methodology, including periodic review gives organizations—including colleges and universities—a much improved chance of success than would be the case in the absence of such a system/methodology/regular review where chaos, subjectivity, and inconsistency would prevail to a much greater extent.

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