There will be virtual visits from the Middle States team Nov. 8-11 to meet with representatives from campus.
Seton Hill’s Middle States co-chair member and professor of chemistry, Diane Miller said the big idea for them is checking in and thinking as a community how they are doing, what they can improve.
The Middle States is part of a handful of regional accreditors that the federal government entrusts with the review and accreditation of higher education institutions that receive Title IV money. It’s a chance for institutions to see how they could look at their past and see how they would be able to improve. The Middle States goes across the mid Atlantic region with the accreditation process happening generally every 10 years, though it’s changed to every eight years for the process.
Jason Draper, institutional researcher, explained it as they are fulfilling their mission and using the money effectively to see that students are getting what they are paying for, and that the credentials that students earn after completion is valid.
“Hopefully universities would be thinking, just as us people, we should always be thinking about self improvement and being self aware – this holds us accountable to make sure we do that,” said Miller.
The Middle States have 10 recommendations for institutions. Draper said, “Now there is a limit on how many tries you get to fix a requirement, but again, it is exceedingly rare for institutions to not fix those requirements because at the end of that line is, we can’t accredit you anymore.”
“The recommendations really are smaller things so there are not usually that many of them because if there were that many of them, then you would have bigger fundamental issues in meeting each standard,” said Draper. “An institution may have a requirement related to a standard, and so what then happens is, in six months or a year, you have to address that requirement on campus, to do whatever it is that the accreditor said, and then write a little smaller report saying how you’ve altered practice to meet the standard and then they review it again for each standard.
The co-chair members and institutional researcher noted in a variety of ways the impact this has on the students and institution. In regards to the culture at Seton Hill, Doina Vlad said people want you to help. Vlad seemed pleased with the willingness of the students and faculty about their commitment to making a difference on campus.
“When we had our meeting with our chairwoman Dr. Hobart in June, she was very impressed with the work of today so it’s a positive reinforcement to what we’ve done so far. So she’s said we are ready to move forward with the final document so that’s a reassurance” Vlad said.
Supporting evidence is everything in this process, according to Draper. Members write a 100 page self study document filled with their argument or explanation for how they are meeting the standards.
“So it’s like a peer review, they come and they judge us, read our report. There’s also a part where we’re face-to-face meeting so we can talk about it because it is a big deal,” said Miller. “Everybody wants to get re accredited and so everyone’s going to work for everything that they bring up but if you say ‘oh no I’m not going to do that’ they could stop getting us federal money.”
When funding stops, the biggest priority for institutions who have shut down is to get the students into a healthier institution, one that’s more in line with the standards of their accreditor, according to Draper.
“That’s a very important point to reiterate. We’re in very good shape, and we’re very serious about our self evaluation. We are a strong institution. We’re really strong because we care, and we really try hard, and that’s 99% of making sure that the institution is serving admission,” Draper said.
“I don’t anticipate Middle States trying to shut us down and as Jason said, it’s normal for them to have some recommendations. I think every institution has blind spots or things that they can do better- that’s one of the reasons we go through this process” said Miller. “To try to improve, and we’ll probably have some things that we’ll have to make changes to, but I don’t think you have to worry about Seton Hill closing because of the Middle States process.”
Published by: Mikaela Fitzpatrick