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 seven 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.
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 2008. Five years later in 2013, we provided Middle States with a Periodic Review Report. Middle States will next consider Lehigh's accreditation in 2018. The Self Study Review is currently underway.
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 seven 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?
Eight working groups (representing each of the seven standards and compliance) are comprised of both faculty and staff members, and headed by two co-leads. The coordinating committee or the various working groups may be contacting you in the coming months to ask for information, or to ask that you participate in a meeting.
The various working group reports will become the basis of a self-study report that will be sent to the peer evaluators who will conduct our evaluation. There will be time for the campus community to review the draft report before it is finalized, and you will receive occasional updates about the self-study process throughout the year.
What is a self-study report?
In order to demonstrate compliance with all seven 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.
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 working group members directly. Email is the preferred method of contact so we can document and track input reliably.