Feedback Welcome on the Middle States Self-Study

The comment period on the Middle States self-study is underway.  An open meeting was held yesterday in Lathem Hall, and the campus community was invited to join members of the Steering Committee to share feedback.  Turnout was fairly good, comments and questions were collected, and the tri-chairs were able to provide some insight into the process.

Feedback, questions, and comments are welcome; the deadline is September 20.  Feel free to send your thoughts to the tri-chairs!

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Welcome Back from Widener Middle States!

We hope our colleagues (and steadfast blog readers) have had a productive and restful summer.  The Middle States team has been working all summer on multiple drafts of the self-study report, and we are just about ready to share the document with the campus community.

The Steering Committee met today to provide feedback to the tri-chairs, who will now commence preparing a new version for wide dissemination.  Once all Steering Committee feedback is collected by the tri-chairs (deadline: Monday, August 29th), a newly edited document will then be available to the campus community on September 1.

All members of the campus community are invited to a Town Hall to discuss the draft, to be held on September 8 from 3–4 (location TBD).  Feedback is welcome and encouraged.  Those who cannot make the Town Hall are invited to send any comments and feedback to Janine Utell by September 20.   At the General Faculty meeting tomorrow, August 25, Provost Wilhite will share additional news and updates.

As always, please get in touch with any questions!  Happy new semester!

A Student’s Perspective on Middle States

Our guest blogger is Ashley Rundell, a criminal justice/political science junior serving on Working Group V:  Educational Effectiveness.  Ashley is in the Honors Program in General Education, and in addition to pursuing academic excellence she is very active on campus.  She serves as Financial Secretary for SGA; as a Pride Ambassador; as a Site Leader for Alternative Spring Break; and is a member of the Presidential Service Corps and a Bonner Leadership Scholar.  We are grateful to Ashley for sharing her perspective!

 

When I was first asked to participate in the Middle States self-study, I was unsure how significant my part in the project would be, considering this would be my first time. Despite being heavily involved on campus, becoming familiar with the purpose of Middle States and the process in general seemed foreign to me. From the first meeting I had with my working group, I was introduced to many members of the university whose history at the institution as well as expertise in certain academic programs would be clearly helpful. It was then I asked myself, where exactly does my voice as a student come into play?

Sifting through various documentation, reports and evaluations, I quickly found my answer. Being thoroughly involved in many clubs and organizations on campus, I have experienced many aspects of Widener University that come into the self-study assessment process. Unlike most faculty, staff or administrators, I both live and work on campus all throughout the week right beside the very students Widener strives to serve. This has given me the opportunity over the last few years to not only experience the inner workings of the university’s strategic plan, but also gain insight on where improvement could be the most effective.

Specifically being a member of Working Group V, we focus primarily on questions related to educational effectiveness and student learning outcomes. My involvement both inside and outside the classroom has given me an individualized outlook on each proposed inquiry. In the cases concerning general education and student learning objectives, my experiences as a Widener student in various learning environments give me a different view of the level of effectiveness in contrast to a professor. Similarly, working in Student Life as both a Resident Assistant in the Office of Residence Life and an executive board member of the Student Government Association, I am open to how well the institution is offering hands-on development and assessment of the significant impact it has on students.

Since I typically find myself speaking so highly of Widener, primarily of its ability to engage students to prepare them for a successful future, I am fortunate to have been given this opportunity. I can truly say my voice as a student has been fully taken into account and viewed as a primary source when considering how effective the institution is in meeting the new accreditation standards. In my final two years at Widener, I look forward to sharing my experience with students to assure them the university listens to their opinions.

Overall, I have been impressed at how clearly the institution outlines expectations of student success, always with quality transformational outcomes in mind. Being a current Widener student and having the opportunity to both see this commitment to student development as well as the vision moving forward confirms for me how proud I am to be a contributing member of the self-study process. As the weeks progress to the big day when our final outline and recommendations are due, I look forward to continuing to act as a voice for the student body to further Widener’s mission to properly serve students!

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.