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Middle States Accreditation: The Quality Buck Stops Here

February 19, 2015

MSCHBy now I hope that you have seen information about how the campus is preparing for the Middle States accreditation decennial evaluation visit in 2017. Given the amount of work that goes into this preparation, it is helpful to take a step back and look at the big picture in order to understand why we need to do this. 

Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) is one of six regional accreditation agencies for the colleges and universities in the United States. Every institution - public, private, 2- or 4-year - must maintain accreditation in order to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education to provide federal student aid (roughly 175 billion in student financial aid on a national basis). Since RIT depends on federal financial aid so that our students can attend the university, you can see right away how important accreditation is to the university. 

But more importantly, and the real reason we should embrace the importance of accreditation, is that it ensures that the university is providing a quality education to our students. The review process looks at every single operation of the university with the singular focus of answering the question: How well are we doing what we say we do?

The review process, however, goes well beyond a scorecard mentality because its greatest value is the identification of areas for improvement. Can we do a better job at helping students achieve our learning outcomes? Are we doing enough to retain students and helping them achieve a degree? How can we do better? If there is one thing I have learned about RIT over the years, it is how committed everyone is to making this a great university and that means embracing a continuous improvement attitude. And continuous improvement is central to our institutional accreditation review. 

Now MSCHE recently revised its Standards of Excellence for Accreditation based on input from member institutions and issues raised in the national conversation related to making accreditation less onerous and more useful to member institutions.  The new standards were endorsed by member institutions and by MSCHE in the fall of 2014. All institutions will use new standards for reaccreditation starting in 2017-2018.

Throughout the new standards, there is a strong focus the student learning experience and ongoing processes for institutional effectiveness assessment.

In preparation for rolling out the new standards, MSCHE invited a small cohort of institutions scheduled for re-accreditation self-study visits during 2016-2017 to be part of the Collaborative Implementation Project— I am proud to say that RIT is one of the 15 institutions. 

The cohort in this collaborative project will apply the new standards as part of their decennial self-study reviews and have been selected based on a combination of factors, including an assessment of the risks to the institution associated with applying the new standards and objective criteria. By being invited to participate, Middle States clearly has tremendous regard for our institution and believes that we are well-suited to make material contribution to this project. 

RIT chose to participate to work with Middle States in developing our self-study using the new standards and help adapt the evaluation process to the new standards. The advantages of participating were clear - we will be able to:

  • Provide feedback and guidance on the MSCHE standards and accreditation process (not often institutions can have direct input on how standards are developed or implemented);
  • Work collaboratively with 14 other institutions to discuss and review the standards;
  • Share ideas to streamline and improve RIT processes and procedures; and 
  • Build a campus-wide understanding of the new MSCHE standards

Let me close by adding that we could not be in better hands for this project and process as we have a stellar steering committee that will provide campus leadership and guide us over the next several months. Designed to include an intentional breadth and depth in terms of a blend of veterans, newer colleagues, divisions, students, staff, and faculty that represent the campus, the Steering Committee members are: 

  • Karen Barrows, Chief of Staff, President’s Office
  • Bob Finnerty, Chief Communications Officer                                           
  • Joan Graham, Assistant Vice-President for Institutional Research              
  • Paula Grcevic, Professor, NTID                                                                     
  • Clyde Hull, Associate Professor, SCB                                                 
  • Bridget Hurley/Austin Sierra, Student Government Representative                                   
  • Sandra Johnson, Senior Vice-President for Student Affairs                           
  • Michael Laver, Associate Professor, CLA and Co-chair Steering Committee           
  • Christine Licata, Senior Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, RIT Accreditation Liaison Officer (ALO)          
  • Ed Lincoln, Assistant Senior VP for Enrolment Management                      
  • Kevin McDonald, VP & Associate Provost for Diversity & Inclusion            
  • Yin Pan, Associate Professor, GCCIS                                                  
  • Thomas Smith, Professor, COS                                                                      
  • Kim Sowers, Director of ITS Applications Development                              
  • Greg van Laeken, Business Manager and Analyst for Global Programs                 
  • Anne Wahl, Assistant Provost and Co-chair Steering Committee

This group will guide working groups consisting of students, staff and faculty from across the campus to provide MSCHE with the final self-study in February 2017. It will involve tremendous work but, as you can see, work that has deep meaning to the university and in the end, will result in an even better institution.