Preparing the Self-Study: Summer Timeline

We’ll be taking a bit of a summer hiatus here on the blog, as we get down to drafting the Middle States self-study report.  The writing is well underway, thanks to the labor of the working groups.

In the meantime, here is the timeline for drafting, revising, and sharing with the campus community [NOTE: This timeline has been updated as of 24 August 2016]:

  • June 1: First draft to Provost Wilhite
  • June 10: Revisions due back to Tri-Chairs
  • July 1: Second draft to President Wollman
  • July 15: Revisions due back to Tri-Chairs
  • August 1: Third draft to Steering Committee and Executive Committee
  • August 24: Steering committee meeting and feedback received
  • September 1: Fourth draft to Widener community
  • September 8: Town Hall (location TBD)
  • September 20: Final feedback due to the Tri-Chairs from all constituents
  • September 30: Final revision sent to Provost Wilhite
  • Early-mid-October: Report sent to MSCHE Team Chair
  • November 10:  MSCHE Team Chair Visit
  • March 27–29:  MSCHE Evaluating Team Visit

Just because we’ll be offline doesn’t mean we’re not available.  As always, feel free to get in touch with questions or concerns, and have a great summer!


Middle States and Peer Review

The Middle States Steering Committee has completed its peer review of working group drafts.  Now it’s on to the next deadline:  revisions of working group reports are due April 1.

Peer review has played an important role in the Middle States process up to now.  Each working group draft was assigned primary and secondary reviewers, co-chairs of other groups whose work showed significant linkages to the report under review.  Co-chairs provided comments on drafts, and a wide-ranging and constructive discussion was had over two days as feedback was shared.

Interested in the role writing and peer review is playing in this process?  Much of our direction in this area was taken from our former VP Bob Schneider, who recommended this article to us:  Eloise Knowlton, “Through the Rearview Looking Glass: Collaborative Writing and the Accreditation Self-Study,”  Assessment Update 25:5 (Sept-Oct 2013).  Click here for a PDF.

Professors Krouse and Utell will be sharing updates on our process at today’s faculty meeting.  Can’t make it?  Here are the slides:

And here’s some peer review in action:
Tim Cairy, Director of Student Success and Retention and Co-Chair, Working Group IV
Tim Cairy, Director of Student Success and Retention and Co-Chair, Working Group IV

A New Semester, and a Deadline

Happy new semester!  We hope the holidays were restful for all.

The winter break continued to be a productive time for those of us working on Middle States.  Meetings for the tri-chairs and the working groups have been calendared, and we are looking forward to our next major deadline:  first drafts of reports from the working groups.  These are due on February 1, and we’ve got a pretty busy schedule of meetings through February so that those teams can get revisions done by April 1.

Interested in the process?  Here’s a closer look (grabbed from our self-study design):

The working group reports are essential for crafting the final self-study report. They provide vital input in terms of analysis and recommendations; however, they are not the final self-study report. The final self-study report is crafted through collaboration among the working groups and steering committee, and finally synthesized by the tri-chairs. The working group report drafts will be subject to extensive feedback from the steering committee and tri-chairs, and the final drafts will be edited for consistent style, voice, and format.

The working groups should see their purpose in writing to be analyzing the relevant documents to determine how well we are doing in achieving our mission and gleaning evidence thereof; and making recommendations which are connected to strategic priorities, and which are finite and manageable. The purpose is not to describe everything at the institution related to the standard, nor is it to provide a history. The strongest evidence and most representative examples should be chosen to illustrate how well we are doing in meeting the standard under consideration. We might think of the process of writing the working group reports and the final self-study report as analyzing evidence and drawing conclusions the way one might for a research article, and the drafts will be subject to a similar kind of “peer review” and editing process.

Once the working group drafts have been submitted, they will be read in a form of “peer review” by the steering committee. The steering committee is responsible for making sure the standards are addressed, solid evidence and examples are selected and interpreted, and that appropriate analysis and recommendations are included. The steering committee will make suggestions, note connections across reports from different groups, and review the strength of the analysis and the quality of the recommendations.  The working groups will then work on revisions, to be submitted to the steering committee for final review. The tri-chairs will then work on synthesizing the working group final reports, making any necessary revisions, and editing to create the self-study report draft.

Members of the campus community should, as always, feel free to get in touch with questions, either online or off — we’ll be available at the General Faculty Meeting on February 22 for updates and questions, too.  Have a good spring!

Telling Our Story through Self-Study

The Middle States working groups are making excellent progress on each of the standards that are guiding our self-study.  We are nearing the deadline for working groups to submit detailed outlines as a preliminary step towards their reports:  December 1.  This is an important step for each working group as they put together their reports, at which point we will begin compiling the final self-study document.  Janine Utell and Anne Krouse will be sharing more updates and taking any questions at the General Faculty Meeting on November 16.

Part of what the working groups are doing is collecting data from a wide range of sources, drawing from a number of key documents as well as interviews with faculty, staff, and administrators.  (We’ve seen the importance of the student perspective as well!)  In their reports, the working groups will analyze the documents for evidence that we are fulfilling our mission, and they will make recommendations, based on the data, for how we can move forward with strategic priorities.

Members of the working groups are looking for exemplary, robust instances of things we do well here at Widener.  These might be academic programs that evince coherence and rigor.  They might be findings from a well-designed program of assessment.  They might be documents that show a highly functioning system of governance and a commitment to leading with integrity.  They might be areas of student support that reflect a dedication to collaborating across units to facilitate student success, along with findings that show evidence of that success.

The final self-study report will draw on all of this and more, highlighting examples that show us meeting the standards in an integrated and intentional way.  Some of you reading may have already been contacted by a member of a working group to share insights regarding your program, your unit or area, or your work in governance.  What other instances of Widener fulfilling its mission and doing it well might serve as good examples?

Middle States Self-Study: Managing the Work

Professor Beatriz Urraca contributed to this post.  Professor Urraca is Associate Professor of Modern Languages, Director of Gender and Women’s Studies, and Chairperson of the Faculty Council Grants and Awards Committee.  She serves as the co-chair for Working Group I:  Mission and Goals.

Now that the Middle States self-study is underway, one of the tasks facing the working groups is figuring out how to manage the work itself.  Members of the groups and their chairs are determining the best ways to communicate with each other, delegate specific tasks, share findings, and facilitate meetings.

The working groups are using Campus Cruiser extensively, particularly the documentation roadmap in Shared Files.  The documentation roadmap consists of all the files the groups might need to analyze how well the institution is meeting the Middle States criteria.  Documents are matched up with the relevant criteria to facilitate the groups’ work on the self-study, and include anything and everything related to our work at Widener.

Mindful that members of the groups (and even some of the co-chairs) are doing an accreditation self-study for the first time, some chairs have drafted sample answers to one or two questions from the design and distributed them within the group to serve as models.

Members of the working groups have also devised a variety of ways to manage their tasks.  Several of the groups have developed a matrix to divide up the work according to the members’ areas of specialization, as well as to facilitate the running of meetings, the analysis of findings, and the generation of recommendations.  Relevant documents are identified and discussed in relation to both compliance with Middle States criteria and the strategic plan. Groups have also created a “parking lot” file of suggestions with an eye towards being able to make recommendations when it comes time to draft reports at the end of the semester. Shorter deadlines have been set up for the completion of pieces of the work in order to make the larger tasks more manageable. Groups are also identifying personnel to interview, in order to gain insights not available through reading the documents alone.

In addition to weekly or biweekly meetings, working groups are communicating with each other and with the tri-chairs over email, and using Campus Cruiser message boards.  The steering committee and the tri-chairs are also each meeting once a month.  Members of the steering committee are invited to share updates and news to be communicated here, so stay tuned.

Perspectives on Accreditation and What Matters

Our guest blogger is Brigitte Valesey, Ph.D.  Dr. Valesey is Assistant Provost for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment.  She serves as the co-chair for Working Group 5:  Educational Effectiveness, and was recently invited to present on the Middle States self-study process at the Annual Conference on Teaching and Learning Assessment:  Building Academic Innovation and Renewal, held at Drexel University.


In a recent meeting with other higher education colleagues, I heard the familiar comparisons of multiple reasons for extreme busyness: “We have a new (interim or no) president (and/or provost or dean),” “We just re-organized,” and of course, the ultimate indicator of exhaustive effort, “We are working on our Middle States self-study!”

For the last, the agonizing data collection and analysis frenzy contributes to the perception of (re)accreditation as a burdensome, intrusive process that bogs down an entire institution every 7-10 years. Often added to the expressions of burden is the caveat, “BUT, we are learning a lot about ourselves.”

Ultimately, preparation for accreditation engages us in ways that sometimes seem overwhelming yet offer us opportunities to deeply reflect on our institution’s strengths and uncover areas for improvement even during leadership transitions.

Having the dual (or dueling!) perspectives of working group co-chair and Middle States evaluator, I feel the short-term urgency of producing that “unassailable” evidence and convincing self-study narrative coupled with knowing that indeed, we have the “right” documentation to demonstrate our educational effectiveness. Why should this re-accreditation pilot of the new Middle States standards be any different from past processes? How can we use the new standards to reframe our self-study preparation to be more meaningful, less painful, and less concerned with the periodic approach to accreditation and more focused on continuous improvement? What will be different after re-accreditation?

Accreditation is not a recent development in higher education. Historically, the role of accreditation was to assure the legitimacy of colleges and identify academic work acceptable for college transfer; its role has expanded to address compliance with federal regulations. As Linda Suskie notes in her 2015 Five Dimensions of Quality: A Common Sense Guide to Accreditation and Accountability, while federal regulations continue to shape higher education, accreditation affords a means to demonstrate and assure educational quality across very diverse colleges and universities with different missions, student populations, and programs.

Heightened tensions exist right now between higher education and the federal government over the current accreditation system and regulatory compliance, with the federal government seeking greater control over college performance, learning outcomes, and peer review processes. Critics of higher education cite rising student debt and lack of jobs after graduation as accumulating evidence of lack of accountability. In a recent Chronicle interview [PAYWALL], Judith Eaton, President of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, states “the biggest single issue is the call for accreditation to speak more explicitly to the performance of a college or university—students graduating, students completing other educational goals, they’re successfully transferring, they get jobs.”

So, what is different about the new Middle States standards? A colleague said to me, “There are fewer standards, just seven, to address so the self study has to be easier to write. With the fourteen previous standards, there was so much overlap and redundancy; it was hard to figure out where to put information [for the self-study].” The latter was true, but with consolidation comes a shift in emphasis. The new standards focus on the student experience first and how the institution uses its resources to assure and sustain quality, transformational student experiences that contribute to successful outcomes. Assessment is infused across the standards, with more explicit criteria for evidence of educational quality and college performance. Gone are narratives about optional evidence, replaced by explicit criteria for educational quality and future sustainability. The evidence needs to be clear and convincing about the quality of student experiences, student performance, and our ability to sustain successful outcomes in the context of our mission and vision.

How will we approach the preparation of the self-study using the new standards? Middle States expects Widener as a pilot institution to engage as many constituencies as possible in our process, so a good deal of work has been done already to provide multiple venues for communication and to demonstrate transparency. This fall the workgroups will be analyzing documents as evidence using agreed-upon analysis questions and the criteria for each of the standards. Strengths and gaps will be shared across workgroups to inform the self-study. The self-study report will have to be forward-focused, communicating how we can leverage what we do well to advance our strategic initiatives and our educational effectiveness.

As a co-chair for the Educational Effectiveness Work Group, I anticipate our workgroup will be posing critical questions, reviewing evidence, checking in and collaborating with other workgroups, and sharing information on a regular basis.

So, what if I am not in a Middle States workgroup, what can I do? Why should I care? It’s natural to assume that if you are not part of the Middle States steering committee or in a working group, that you have no contribution to make. One way to think about participation as a member of the broader Widener community is to assume the perspective of an academic citizen. To be fully engaged in the work of the institution, the academic citizen is knowledgeable of agreed-upon expectations for educational effectiveness, seeks relevant information and data, models effective practices, and contributes to quality experiences for students, either directly or indirectly, to achieve positive educational outcomes and student success.

We already care about who really matters -the students- and how we prepare them to adapt and thrive in a dynamic world. What we want to find out is, are we doing what we really ought to be doing to achieve our shared goals and outcomes?

Editor’s Note: The editor is grateful to Dr. Valesey for sharing a guest post, and welcomes any members of the Widener community to do the same.

Middle States: What Are Our Intended Outcomes?

First of all, a welcome and thank you to all our new subscribers.  Please feel free to send along suggestions for future posts, and share your thoughts in the comments. Guest posts are also welcome; get in touch if you’re interested!

We’ll be posting again in mid-August as everyone gears up for the new semester, and then about twice a month after that.  In addition to sharing updates from monthly steering committee meetings and progress along our timeline, we’ll also be providing resources and insights from those working on Middle States.

As we take a bit of a summer break, it might be worth reflecting:  what are we hoping to get out of going through the self-study and re-accreditation process?  Of course, we would like to demonstrate our meeting of the Middle States standards, but beyond that, how can we use the process to envision where we would like to be as an institution?

If we think of the Middle States self-study and re-accreditation process as an opportunity to reflect and reaffirm, we might be in an even better position as an institution to move forward in meeting our mission.  In a future post, we’ll be sharing resources for thinking through the big-picture implications of this process, but in the meantime, we thought we might highlight the intended outcomes from our self-study:

  • Comprehensively assess how well the university is meeting the new regional accreditation standards, at the end of one strategic plan and the beginning of another.
  • Identify how the ongoing assessment of processes and outcomes can be strengthened.
  • Use the findings of the comprehensive assessment of how the university is meeting accreditation standards to help shape unit-level objectives and associated measures for the new strategic plan.
  • Strengthen processes and procedures for ongoing assessment of progress in achieving strategic goals and objectives that regularly provide data relevant to documenting compliance with accreditation standards.
  • Identify elements of existing evaluations of programs (both academic and non-academic) that can be incorporated into a common, university-wide framework for program evaluation that includes multiple measures of program sustainability (e.g., cost, revenue generation, impact, quality of program outcomes, contribution to institution’s reputation, etc.).
  • Collect and study evidence that shows how the mission, vision, and goals of the institution are contributing to student success, and develop ways of using that evidence to implement, fulfill, and assess the strategic plan.
  • Leverage the self-study and strategic planning processes in order to assess where we are and move forward with key aspects of our mission, especially civic engagement, leadership, scholarship, student success, and agility/innovation.
  • Build on a collaborative and inclusive process/culture/climate to complete and learn from the self-study.

What do some of these outcomes mean for you as a member of the Widener community, and how do you see your role in contributing?  Feel free to share in the comments!