Characteristics of Excellence: The Accreditation Standards
The essential point of reference for self-study and peer review is Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education, which sets forth the Commission’s eligibility requirements and standards for accreditation.
An institution seeking reaffirmation of accreditation, initial accreditation, or candidacy for accreditation status must demonstrate that it meets or continues to meet all of the Commission’s eligibility requirements. The institution completes a Certification Statement concerning compliance with the eligibility requirements and Federal Title IV requirements, which is signed by the Chief Executive Officer and the Chair of the institution’s governing board and attached to the executive summary of the self-study report. The evaluation team report and the team Chair’s confidential brief to the Commission are required to affirm that, based on a review of the self-study, interviews, the Certification Statement that the institution has provided and/or other institutional documents, the institution meet or continues to meet the eligibility requirements. (The Certification Statement appears as Figure 19 in Chapter 5 of this handbook.)
The Commission’s accreditation standards were developed by consensus among member institutions in the Middle States region. They identify an institution’s mission, goals, and objectives as guideposts for all aspects of the accreditation protocol. The institution’s mission provides a lens through which the institution and the Commission’s evaluation team view the standards and apply them to that institution. This enables regional accreditation to address diverse institutional types and diverse educational delivery systems.
The 14 individual standards, organized into sections entitled Institutional Context and Educational Effectiveness, should be viewed as an interrelated whole. Accompanying each standard in Characteristics of Excellence is narrative text on its context and values that provides guidance and definition. Fundamental Elements specify the particular characteristics or qualities that together constitute the standard. Institutions and evaluators use these elements, within the context of institutional mission, to demonstrate or determine compliance with the standard.
The Fundamental Elements should not be seen as a simple checklist. The totality created by these elements and any other relevant institutional information or analysis must be considered. Where an institution does not evidence a particular Fundamental Element, the institution may demonstrate through alternative information and analysis that it meets the standard.
Characteristics of Excellence also identifies for each standard Optional Analysis and Optional Evidence that an institution might provide.
THE STANDARDS AT A GLANCE
The standards, outlined in Appendix A, include:
Standard 1: Mission and Goals
Standard 2: Planning, Resource Allocation, and
Standard 3: Institutional Resources
Standard 4: Leadership and Governance
Standard 5: Administration
Standard 6: Integrity
Standard 7: Institutional Assessment
Standard 8: Student Admissions and Retention
Standard 9: Student Support Services
Standard 10: Faculty
Standard 11: Educational Offerings
Standard 12: General Education
Standard 13: Related Educational Activities
Standard 14: Assessment of Student Learning 2
An Overview of the Decennial Self-Study Process and Result
"Self Study, Creating a Useful Process and Report, Second Edition", Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
The decennial evaluation consists of an extensive institutional self-study process that produces a written self-study report. This report and the Commission’s accreditation standards serve as the basis for on-site evaluation by a team of peer evaluators. (See Figure 1.)
Candidate institutions are evaluated in this way prior to the granting of initial accreditation, newly accredited institutions are evaluated again five years after receiving initial accreditation, and long-accredited institutions are evaluated this way every 10 years.
During self-study, the institution carefully considers its educational programs and services, with particular attention to student learning and achievement, and it determines how well these programs and services accomplish the institution’s goals, fulfill its mission, and meet the Commission’s standards.
Under the leadership of a steering committee appointed by the institution, working groups or subcommittees examine existing data and evaluative reports, gather new information, and prepare analytical reports on their assigned topics. (The term "working groups" is used in this handbook to avoid confusion with references to the steering committee) The steering committee edits the reports of the various working groups, produces a draft for discussion, and disseminates the final self-study report. (See Figure 2.)
A broad cross-section of the campus community is expected to participate in the self-study process at each stage: in the steering committee, the working groups, and the campus-wide discussions.
The self-study report has two sets of audiences and two major purposes. The primary audience is the institution’s own community, and the secondary audience includes external (or public) constituencies.
The primary purpose of the self-study report is to advance institutional self-understanding and self-improvement. The self-study report, therefore, is most useful when it is analytical and forward-looking rather than descriptive or defensive, when it is used both to identify problems and to develop solutions to them, and when it identifies opportunities for growth and development. Because the decennial self-study is a major element in the life of an institution, it should be a useful activity, planned and executed carefully, and not simply a formal exercise. It will be most helpful if the institution implements and adapts self-assessment as a continuous process that supports its regular planning cycle.
The second purpose of the self-study is to demonstrate to external audiences, such as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, government regulatory agencies, and the public, that the institution meets the Commission’s standards for accreditation. Both the self-study report and the evaluation team report should be shared by the institution with its community. The Commission's accreditation decision, which follows the team visit, is available to the public as part of the “Statement of Accreditation Status” that the Commission issues for each of its members.
The self-study process and report must be meaningful and useful to the members of the institution and must produce evidence of compliance with accreditation standards. Balancing these two goals is the challenge of an effective self-study.
The institution is assisted throughout the process by a Commission staff member who is appointed as the liaison between the institution and the Commission.