If you’re a higher education professional, you’re familiar with accreditation. However, you might not know how your school earned that designation if it appears in its description. You might also remain unaware of the continual process institutions undergo to maintain this critical classification.
As a crucial team member, you play a role in helping your school uphold rigorous quality standards. Your performance and assistance can help make or break the process. Winning and keeping accreditation attracts top students to your institution and builds your reputation as a leader in educational excellence.
What Is MSCHE Accreditation and Why Does It Matter?
Accreditation works as a quality control measure to make sure an institution has sufficient resources and staff members to serve students effectively. However, it doesn’t only measure the number of assets and human capital available. The process also evaluates the quality of the teaching and coursework. Reviewers monitor student progress and make sure that all staff has sufficient expertise in their subject areas.
Accreditation matters for several reasons. Graduates from accredited institutions have a competitive edge in the workplace over their peers who attended non-accredited schools. Employers know that schools bearing the designation meet strict standards of excellence. They understand that graduates from such an institution have the requisite skills to complete the job without them having to invest a significant amount of time on additional training.
Additionally, accreditation determines whether or not some students can attend your school at all. Colleges and universities must hold the designation through a federally recognized accreditor for students to receive aid, like grants and student loans, to attend. Furthermore, many professions require students to sit for state licensing exams, and they must come from an accredited institution to win admittance to the testing room.
Accreditation helps your institution to attract students. It informs prospective enrollees that you are not a “degree mill,” but a school with a program recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Accreditation boards are private agencies, and some schools can have a designation the government doesn’t acknowledge.
Ten Facts Professionals Should Know About MSCHE
Accreditation matters significantly. However, knowing why it’s critical doesn’t help you meet the standards. All professionals who work in higher education should also recognize the following ten crucial factors about the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE):
1) Whether Your Institution Is Eligible?
For an institution to win accreditation through MSCHE, it must be authorized to operate as a postsecondary institution and award degrees to graduates. Schools that only offer diplomas, certificates or licenses are not eligible to participate. Schools must comply with all applicable governmental laws and regulations, as well as the Commission’s policies.
Additionally, schools must regularly evaluate their programs to ensure they meet standards of academic rigor. They must publicly disclose how well and in what ways their programs accomplish their purposes. The institution and its governing board must provide accurate and complete information on all aspects of its operations to the Commission.
They need to reveal their internal governance structure to both the Commission and outside authorities. The majority of the governing board may not have employment or ownership interest in the school, nor may they have any personal financial interest in its success. This requirement helps maintain standards of impartiality and prevents conflict of interest.
2) Which Institutions Hold This Accreditation?
If you want to succeed in any endeavor, you need to know who your competition is. Currently, 598 schools comprise the MSCHE database, which does contain some international schools.
Both national and regional accreditations exist. The MSCHE covers the mid-Atlantic region of the United States, including the following areas:
- New York.
- New Jersey.
- District of Columbia.
- Puerto Rico.
- U.S. Virgin Islands.
Additionally, the Commission does grant accreditation to some global schools, such as Athabasca University in Canada.
3) How to Maintain Your Accreditation?
The Commission recently compressed the re-evaluation schedule. Schools now undergo a re-evaluation process every eight years. The wisest schools start early — approximately two to three years before — so they have time to coordinate all the details.
Your institution should hire a project manager who has extensive experience in this area, as well as a logistics coordinator. These individuals are responsible for getting the necessary documents to the reviewers, as well as scheduling meeting rooms and managing deadlines. They will amass documentation to demonstrate every part of the narrative of how the school assists students.
4) How the Accreditation Process Works?
The accreditation process measures the following seven standards:
Mission and Goals — The institution must have a clear mission statement and objectives that support it. The school should develop these with input from all stakeholders.
Ethics and Integrity — Institutions must promote academic freedom and a climate that fosters respect between students and staff regardless of background or perspective.
Design and Delivery of the Student Experience — Degree programs must meet standard length requirements, and highly qualified professionals with expertise in their field should deliver lessons.
Support of the Student Experience — Universities needs to facilitate access for students and take measures to retain them. They must clearly outline their processes for transfer credits and alternative learning experiences.
Educational Effectiveness Assessment — Colleges must demonstrate how they assess student learning and how they align with accepted pedagogical theory.
Planning, Resources, and Improvement — Schools must show that they are fiscally sound and will remain financially viable.
Governance, Leadership, and Administration — The learning institution must have an outlined governing process that allows it to reach its goals. These criteria include transparency in management.
It sounds like a lot, but stringent standards are critical to students’ future success. For example, 56% of graduates from a postsecondary program report feeling satisfied with their careers, as compared to only 30% of those with only a high school diploma.
5) How Long Accreditation Takes?
The time it takes to undergo the accreditation process varies depending on how well your institution prepares. Schools that are well-prepared can often sail through the process in as little as three years. However, many institutions find it takes significantly longer. They may need to gather additional documentation or make improvements before they qualify.
Schools don’t have unlimited time to meet the requirements once they begin the application process, however. They must have the ability to achieve Candidate for Accreditation Status within five years, per federal law.
It’s critical to note the difference between national and regional accreditation, too. The number of online schools continues to rise. More than 1 million students reported taking online learning classes in 2017. Because nearly two-thirds of all schools offer some online learning options, some institutions gain both national and regional accreditation.
This distinction matters because while nationally accredited schools will often accept credits from regionally accredited institutions, the reverse is not the case. Because MSCHE is regional accreditation, other regionally accredited schools will take transfer credits. They won’t accept national credits, however.
6) Who Decides if Your School Qualifies?
You might visualize the MSCHE peer reviewers as intimidating folks in dark suits scouring your campus for any signs of standards violation. However, that stereotype isn’t true. The peer evaluators are just that — your peers. They consist of higher education professionals who undergo specialized training.
You can apply to become a peer evaluator if you meet the qualifications. Doing so helps you to build your professional network quickly, as you’ll encounter scores of colleagues throughout the process. You’ll also learn about best practices at other institutions and further your knowledge of the accreditation process. This knowledge makes you more valuable to your current employer, as you can help them prepare for renewal.
The Commission is currently recruiting the following individuals. If you meet the qualifications, the application remains open through March 31 of this year. It reopens in November if you’re not ready to leap yet:
Higher Educational Professionals with 3 or More Years of Experience — The people who perform your evaluations are fellow educators like yourself.
CEOs and CFOs — People with related financial expertise can help evaluate how sound the institutions’ budgets are.
Bilingual Applicants —The Commission currently needs people who are bilingual in English and Spanish.
7) How Do Administrators Start the Process?
The first thing administrators need to do is determine whether MSCHE accreditation is appropriate for their institution. The school must foremost be operational, meaning it has students enrolled in the program. It must also have graduated at least one class and demonstrate that students can achieve appropriate learning outcomes.
Schools also need the requisite finances to pay annual membership dues. They will pay various fees throughout the process, and they’ll need to budget for the site visit.
8) How to Succeed With Accreditation?
Once your school seeks accreditation, you have to produce any documentation the team needs to expedite the process. It begins with a self-study where the school strives to convince the site visit team that they are compliant with all seven standards. Think of this part of the system as if you were an attorney preparing for a trial. Your job is to gather evidence to present to the judge.
The most convenient way to convince the site evaluators is to list the standards, then provide documents to demonstrate how you meet them. You might need to supply the following:
Copies of Course Syllabi — These confirm that your course of instruction is educationally sound and aligned with the school’s stated mission and goals.
Copies of Evaluations —These indicate how you measure student achievement to ensure they’re meeting the standards.
Intervention Plans — When a student is struggling, how do you support them? What interventions does your team have in place to reduce the chances of a student dropping a course — or leaving school altogether?
It’s always best practice to keep copies of these materials, anyway. That way, you can continually evaluate the effectiveness of your instructional delivery and make improvements as necessary. If you later decide to switch schools, a portfolio of your previous work will assist you in your search. Don’t fall into the trap of getting lazy with your lesson planning, then scrambling to produce these documents at crunch time.
9) What Are the Accreditation Pitfalls?
You might not think an incident that occurs during a football game can impact your school’s accreditation process, but it can. The University of Maryland demonstrates why higher education institutions must continually review their operations to remain compliant.
Once a school wins accreditation, it rarely loses it. However, it can happen — and it can have a devastating effect on students. If they are in the middle of their degree when you lose the designation, they may need to transfer out to an accredited school. Since regionally accredited schools only accept credits from other accredited institutions, students risk losing a semester’s worth of coursework.
The school they transfer to will only take those credits earned before the school fell out of compliance. Former students may need to explain to employers that their school had certification at the time they attended. Many schools that lose their accreditation end up closing their doors because they are no longer eligible to receive money from federal financial aid.
In the case of the University of Maryland, student Jordan McNair died after suffering heat stroke and exhaustion during football practice. During the aftermath, the school decided to retain Head Football Coach D.J. Durkin, while President Wallace Dzu Loh chose to step down. The Board of Regents has concerns about what this indicates about the governance structure at the institution.
Other reasons for losing accreditation include a disproportionate student-to-staff ratio, as large class sizes violate the resources requirement. Additionally, schools can lose accreditation because of unqualified staff members or inappropriate relationships between instructors and students. Before a school loses their certification, they receive a warning. They then receive a specific time frame to make the necessary corrections. If they complete these changes promptly, they’re taken off probation and can continue normal operations.
10) How to Institute a Continual Compliance Process?
The best way to remain compliant with MSCHE accreditation is to establish a continual compliance process. You don’t have to race to catch up before crunch time if you have done your due diligence daily. To develop a system of maintaining accreditation, schools can implement measures such as the following:
Keep accurate records — Schools can require instructors to keep course syllabi and evaluations. They also need to maintain precise books to show financial solvency. A centralized document repository for accreditation purposes streamlines the process.
Perform thorough background checks on staff — To ensure the instructional staff meets the qualifications for accreditation, administrators should verify credentials before making hiring decisions.
Keep student experience paramount — Schools need to identify and correct potential hazards to students. They also need to monitor extracurricular activities and provide resources, such as tutors, for those who need additional help.
Stay in the Know About MSCHE Accreditation Facts
Your school’s reputation rests in large part on its accreditation status. Stay compliant by knowing these critical facts about MSCHE.