Middle States visits Seton Hill for accreditation

Ellie Fogarty (left), the Middle States liaison for Seton Hill, poses for a photo with Provost Sister Susan Yochum during Fogarty’s visit to SHU in March. Photo by S.Dumnich/Setonian.

Seton Hill University is one of 530 institutions that are a part of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. MSCHE is a voluntary, non-profit and non-governmental membership association that performs peer evaluation and accreditation of universities (private and public) and colleges in appointed regions of the United States and foreign institutions of American origin.

“Quality improvement in higher education is our mission,” said Ellie Fogarty, vice president of chairs of MSCHE and Middle States liaison for SHU.

MSCHE was founded in 1887, and its headquarters is located in Philadelphia with 34 staff members. Eligible institutions for accreditation by the MSCHE must be “licensed to operate as institutions of higher education within the Middle States region and be able to award postsecondary degrees” such as associate, bachelor’s and master’s or doctorate.

Institutions of Middle States are located in Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and foreign locations. SHU is considered to be within the Mid-Atlantic region of Middle States.

Every 10 years since 1921, SHU has received visits from MSCHE and is currently working to minimize the process to an eight-year cycle. The purpose of these visits is to reaffirm the accreditation process and ensure the school is meeting MSCHE’s standards.

2019 marks the 10-year cycle for MSCHE’s visit to SHU. On March 28, Fogarty visited SHU to inform students, staff and faculty about the reaffirmation of SHU’s accreditation and the self-study process.

“The self-study is basically a data-driven, analytical narrative, accompanied by supporting evidence, that addresses Seton Hill’s self-reflection on how it is meeting the standards and requirements set forth by the MSCHE,” said Diane Miller, SHU’s Middle States chair member and professor of chemistry. “It gives the university an opportunity to see what it is doing well and the ways in which it could improve. One of the driving goals behind this process is a hope for continuous improvement.”

The reaffirmation of SHU’s accreditation is a two-year process, and over these next two years there will be a peer review of the university which will be analyzed through documents and interviews. The next step in the process is analysis and conclusions that the university is meeting the standards of MSCHE.

The analysis and conclusions will then be used to improve and innovate a 100-page document known as the self-study report. From the report, peer reviews will be conducted that reflect back on the document, which gives SHU’s faculty a chance to converse and make sure they are meeting the seven standards put forth by MSCHE.

“It is a campus-wide initiative that is so vital to the institution that everyone involved can feel like they are making a contribution and it’s not just committee work,” Fogarty said. “It’s really going to result in the reaffirmation of accreditation.”

The process is led by a vice president or president of another institution and must not be a competitor institution. The peer review process will occur six weeks prior to the late fall of 2020 to the winter of 2021. Interviews will be conducted on campus for clarification on goals and standards. Following interviews, an oral exit report will be put in place, and this ends after going through and meeting the seven standards.

The peer review process involves faculty, but students are also encouraged to get involved.
“Students can be involved on working groups that are arranged standard by standard, and the call for volunteers may come through the steering committee or through the student government association, that will be determined in the fall,” Fogarty said.

“Students can be involved by coming to open forums about the self-study process, learning more about it and asking questions,” Fogarty added. “Students can respond to the drafts as the drafts are made public and they call for campus feedback. Once the team comes on campus, you can be in interviews with the team.”

The following are brief descriptions of the seven standards of Middle States accredited institutions.

I: Mission & Goals
This is to “ensure that the institutional goals are realistic and stay consistent with the institution’s mission. Other goals include a clear focus on student learning and outcomes that will improve the institution.”

II: Ethics & Integrity
This standard deals heavily with students and affordability where services or programs must be in place to promote affordability. Also, these services or programs are in place to let students understand funding and incurring financial debt.

III: Design & Delivery of the Student Learning Experience
This standard ensures that the student learning experiences are “directed by faculty that are not only qualified but are effective in teaching methods in an institution that offers graduate and professional education.”

IV: Support of the Student Experience
An accredited institution must provide information about scholarships, loans, grants, etc. There must also be orientation, advising and counseling as well.

V: Educational Effectiveness Assessment
The results of assessments are used for the improvement of the institution’s educational effectiveness. There must be clearly stated educational goals that align with the institution’s mission.

VI: Planning, Resources & Institutional Improvement
This standard deals with financial budgeting and that the university is making comprehensive plans for facilities, infrastructure and technology. Human resources to support operations and how and where programs are delivered is also considered.

VII: Governance, Leadership & Administration
The institution must have a governing body that “oversees at the policy level the quality of teaching and learning and approval of degree programs and awarding of degrees.” The governing body also “appoints and evaluates the performance of the Chief Executive Officer.”

Published By: Stephen Dumnich

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