Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Organizational Self-Study: Time to Reflect

Accreditation is the “good housekeeping seal of approval” for colleges and universities. Without it, our credits would not transfer, employers would not recognize our graduates, and the U.S. federal government would not process the millions of dollars our students receive in financial aid each year. To obtain and maintain accreditation, colleges must undergo an organizational “self-study” every 10 years and assess itself against seven standards, as defined by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). Colleges produce a self-study document that is sent to MSCHE and an evaluation team comprised of peers from other community colleges in the Middle States region (excluding our neighbors here in New York who are part of the same SUNY system). 

As one of seven regional accrediting agencies, MSCHE is under the same pressure as the other regions to demonstrate to the federal government that peer evaluation and accreditation have teeth — rigor and consequences are tangible. The self-study process is a two-year organizational endeavor involving more than a quarter of full-time employees in significant committee work; more than half in meaningful participation; and nearly all in one way or another in addition to a variety of opportunities for students and community members. Our self-study will be in complete draft form by the start of fall 2017. We'll host the evaluation team chair in the fall and receive feedback to finalize our document by the start of the spring 2018 semester. The process will be complete when the team visits us in the spring of 2018 and makes their recommendation to the MSCHE Board for action at their July 2018 meeting. 

Although accreditation, and the standards it requires, may have seemed like a "spot check" on organizational operations in the past, this is no longer the case. With a variety of external accountability forces driving change in community colleges (and higher education as a whole), the self-study process for accreditation is increasingly becoming about demonstrating how colleges are continuously undergoing self-study for institutional improvement. The accreditation standards simply provide the minimum standards and guidance for what every good institution of higher education should be and do.

MVCC does not shy away from this shift to continually assessing itself and striving to improve. Our self-study workgroups working very hard to ask the tough questions and distill an accurate reflection of where the college has been over the past 10 years; where we are; and clarify our challenges and opportunities for the future. As a college, we are increasingly recognizing that we need to continue developing our systems, programs, and services because we have data to inform our thinking that we're doing the right things, for the right reasons, with the right outcomes. Accreditation does indeed provide that external stamp of approval for the college but to truly thrive in these changing times of paradox and uncertainty, we need to be doing things because they're what we need to do to be a great institution well into the future.

If you have any questions or comments about this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.