What is accreditation? What is Middle States?
Accreditation is a means of showing that Lehigh's programs, policies, and priorities are aligned with our institutional mission and goals. The accreditation process is an opportunity to demonstrate Lehigh's accountability, both internally and externally. Lehigh is committed to the accreditation process as a means of institutional self-discovery and advancement while also meeting the expectations of our accrediting agency, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
"Middle States" is a short-hand reference for the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The Council on Higher Education Accreditation and the U. S. Department of Education recognize Middle States as one of several regional accreditation authorities. Middle States accredits institutions in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and several locations abroad.
Is this really important? Should I care?
Absolutely. Students, faculty, staff, administrators, parents, and trustees all have a stake in the accreditation process and its outcome. Middle States accreditation is a prerequisite for access to federal or state funds for research, programs, or facilities and government sources of financial support for students. Accreditation is also a baseline criterion for whether a student's academic credits can be transferred from Lehigh to another institution, and prospective employers and graduate and professional schools take accreditation into account when they consider students for employment or advanced study. Although accreditation does not indicate the level of quality of a Lehigh education or of scholarship conducted at Lehigh, the lack of accreditation signals significant problems in an institution; loss of accreditation would be devastating.
What is Middle States looking for?
Lehigh must comply with each of Middle State's 14 standards, which are interpreted in the context of the institution's mission and goals. Middle States is chiefly looking for evidence that our institutional and educational processes follow from our mission and help us to achieve our goals. In addition, we must demonstrate that our planning processes are sustainable processes for change, informed by data analysis, assessment, and evaluation, and that our resources are allocated in accordance with our priorities. The Middle States process is institution-wide and includes processes like governance, admissions, integrity, and student support.
A brief description of the 14 standards is available. If you are interested in the full exposition of the standards, you can download the Middle States document entitled Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education.
What are the possible outcomes?
An institution can be accredited without any conditions. With increasing frequency, however, Middle States uses outcomes with specific recommendations that engage the institution in a follow-up process. Potential conditional outcomes are "accreditation with a follow-up report" or "accreditation with monitoring and a follow-up visit." If an institution fails to perform the designated follow-up actions, Middle States can withdraw its accreditation.
Aren't we already accredited?
Yes, the Middle States accreditation process follows a 10-year cycle, and Lehigh's last accreditation was in 1998. Five years later, in 2003, we provided Middle States with a Periodic Review Report. You may view electronic copies of the 1998 report, the 2003 report, and the 2003 letter confirming accreditation in .pdf format. Middle States will next consider Lehigh's accreditation in 2008.
Won't Lehigh be accredited automatically? Isn't this just a formality?
No institution is automatically accredited. All institutions must go through the same process and demonstrate compliance with the same standards. It is possible for any institution, including Lehigh, to fail to demonstrate compliance with one or more of the standards.
What is the difference between Middle States and other accrediting bodies (e.g. AACSB, ABET)?
This is a really critical point. Middle States accreditation is institutional, as opposed to discipline-specific, and does not specify course or curriculum content or instructional methods. The 14 Middle States standards are interpreted in the context of the institution's mission and goals.
Many other accrediting agencies have a presence at Lehigh. In each case, the accreditation recognizes that a discipline-based program meets established standards relevant to the discipline. In many cases, the standards include content and pedagogy that discipline practitioners consider essential.
How does the accreditation process work?
An institutional team (the "accreditation steering committee") prepares a self-study report that demonstrates compliance with Middle States standards.
Middle States assembles an external evaluation team that is chaired by a university president and consists of individuals-faculty, staff, administrators-from peer institutions.
The evaluation team reviews the institution's report and visits the institution to examine documents and interview critical groups on campus. During the visit, the team examines evidence for the claims made in the institution's report and verifies that the institution complies with the standards.
What is a self-study report?
In order to demonstrate compliance with all 14 Middle States standards, we are required to produce a self-study report based on one of four models provided by Middle States. Lehigh has chosen the selected topics approach, as it offers the best opportunity for using the accreditation process to move the institution forward. We will develop plans for specific areas of interest, and those plans will receive a peer review evaluation, allowing us to use the process to advance Lehigh on particular dimensions while also meeting the needs of Middle States to evaluate our compliance with the standards.
The selected topics approach divides the self study into two parts: a concentrated examination of topics related to specific planning needs or institutional interests and a compliance report on those standards not covered in the topic-driven sections. Six months prior to the evaluation visit, the evaluation team chair and a generalist evaluator review the compliance report. This allows the visiting team to focus attention on the selected topics during the evaluation visit.
What selected topics is Lehigh examining in the self-study report?
The accreditation steering committee, in consultation with the Provost, the President, and the college Deans, selected two topics for concentrated examination: "Student Transitions" and "Technology Support for a Learning-Centered Mission."
The first topic, "Student Transitions," is divided into two areas of study: "First Year and Beyond" and "Advancement of Student Learning." The "First Year and Beyond" effort reflects an ongoing interest in both Academic Affairs and Student Affairs. As part of working toward the goal of a strengthened and intentional first-year experience, a task force worked through spring and summer of 2005 to develop a set of recommendations for the first-year experience. The next step was to set a second task force to the task of sorting the broad recommendations into an implementation plan. At the same time, the Student Affairs staff had been developing a plan for core skills development. Library and Technology Services had also begun evaluating the information literacy skills of incoming first-year students and developing resources to enhance both information literacy and academic integrity. The "First Year and Beyond" effort in the self-study unites those efforts, gives us an opportunity to consider other issues related to the first year, allows us to move forward with an implementation plan, and also meet the needs of the accreditation process.
The "Advancement of Student Learning" effort addresses the critical issue of assessing student learning outcomes. Middle States standards require that we have an assessment process in place and that it takes the form of a feedback loop in which assessment results are compared to learning objectives and the comparison is used to adjust either the objectives or the means of achieving them. It is critical that we develop and adopt an assessment process for different levels of curriculum (e.g., courses, programs, colleges, university). While in some domains at Lehigh, assessment is done well, it is not universal and there is no overall institutional process for assessment. The challenge we have set for the "Advancement of Student Learning" effort is not just to develop an assessment process but to develop a process that advances student learning by gathering relevant information that faculty can use to improve learning, rather than gathering information that does little to influence content or methods of teaching.
The second topic is "Technology Support for a Learning-Centered Mission" and follows up on the Periodic Review Report that Lehigh submitted to Middle States in 2003. This topic allows us to demonstrate continuity in planning and development efforts in this critical area and gives us an opportunity to report on a number of successful ventures. It also lets us think critically about the effective use of e-learning technologies in a residential institution, and, in particular, how to use technology to foster sustainable intellectual and learning communities.
We could have selected other topics for our self-study, such as faculty governance, diversity, or global education. Those topics, and others, remain important institutional issues. They will inevitably be voiced in the self-study, through either the selected topics or the compliance report. While we work through the accreditation process, the institution will continue to address priorities that are not in the self-study focus.
Do I matter? What kind of input can I have?
Yes! Whether you know it or not, the accreditation process matters to you. You can provide input at any time by contacting one of the committee members directly. Their email addresses are on the committee rosters. Email is the preferred method of contact so we can document and track input reliably. In the late spring of 2007, we plan to have an open comment period for the compliance report, and we plan to have an open comment period for the selected topics report during a portion of the fall 2007 semester.