Middle States Commission on Higher Education


Frequently Asked Questions

What Standards Must an Institution Meet to be Accredited?


In the Middle States region, accreditation is an expression of the confidence that the Middle States Commission on Higher Education has in an institution's mission and goals, its performance, and its resources. Based upon the results of an institutional review by a team of peers assigned by the Commission, accreditation attests to the judgment of the Commission that an institution has met the following criteria:

  • that it has a mission appropriate to higher education;
  • that it is guided by well-defined and appropriate goals, including goals for student learning;
  • that it has established conditions and procedures under which its mission and goals can be realized;
  • that it assesses both institutional effectiveness and student learning outcomes, and uses the results for improvement;
  • that it is accomplishing its mission and goals substantially;
  • that it is so organized, staffed, and supported that it can be expected to continue to accomplish its mission and goals; and
  • that it meets the eligibility requirements and the standards for accreditation of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

[The full text of the Requirements and the Standards may be found in  Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education: Requirements of Affilation and Standards for Accreditation  and downloaded from this website.]

See also Entry Requirements for U.S. Accreditation, an article by former MSCHE President Jean Avnet Morse.


Requirements of Affiliation

To be eligible for Candidacy status, Initial Accreditation or Reaffirmation of Accreditation, an institution must demonstrate that it meets or continues to meet the following Requirements of Affiliation of the Commission on Higher Education. (All terminology is used as defined within the accreditation standards.)  Once eligibility is established, institutions then must demonstrate that they meet the standards for accreditation. 


1. The institution awards postsecondary degrees. Institutions that offer only postsecondary certificates, diplomas, or licenses are not eligible for accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

2. The institution is able to provide written documentation that it is authorized to operate as an educational institution and award postsecondary degrees by an appropriate governmental organization within the Middle States region (Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands), as well as by other agencies as required by each of the jurisdictions or regions in which it operates. It should be noted that:

  • Authorization to operate as a corporation is different from, and does not necessarily guarantee, authorization to offer postsecondary degrees. The latter is required for MSCHE accreditation.
  • Government licensure requirements often differ significantly from Commission accreditation standards, and government licensure does not guarantee that an institution meets Commission standards.


3. The institution is operational, with students actively pursuing its degree programs. It will graduate at least one class before the evaluation team visit for initial accreditation takes place (Step 7 of the initial accreditation process), unless the institution can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Commission that the lack of graduates does not compromise its ability to demonstrate appropriate learning outcomes.

4. The institution's representatives are able to communicate with the Commission in English, both orally and in writing.

5. The institution complies with all applicable government (usually Federal and state) policies, regulations, and requirements.

6. The institution complies with applicable Commission interregional and inter-institutional policies, such as Separately Accreditable Institutions, Interregionally Operating Institutions, and Related Entities. These policies can be viewed under the Policy section of this web site.

7. Institutional planning integrates plans for academic, personnel, information resources and technologies, learning resources, and financial development.

8. The institution has documented financial resources, funding base, and plans for financial development adequate to support its educational purposes and programs and to assure financial stability. The institution devotes a sufficient portion of its income to the support of its educational purposes and programs.

9. The institution's governing body is responsible for the quality and integrity of the institution and for ensuring that the institution's mission is being carried out. It is prepared to declare, in writing, that the institution will make freely available to the Commission accurate, fair, and complete information on all aspects of the institution and its operations.

10. The institution has a core of faculty with sufficient responsibility to the institution to assure the continuity and coherence of the institution's programs.



Interpreting and Applying the Standards


Judgment is important in applying Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education. Although the 2002 revision was formatted so that each Standard is followed by separate sections for “Context,” “Fundamental Elements,” and “Optional Analysis and Evidence,” institutions and teams should remember to consider the spirit of the institution and the spirit of the accreditation standards as a whole, rather than applying these specific statements and “fundamental elements” piecemeal.


Institutions that elect the “selected topics” type of self-study demonstrate compliance with those standards or parts of standards not included in the Selected Topics self-study report through a separate review of documents prior to the team visit. Careful coordination is necessary to ensure that compliance is demonstrated either in the self study and visit, or in the documents reviewed in advance. (Please see Self-Study: Creating a Useful Process and Report for an explanation of the self-study models.)


If an institution has elected to organize its self-study process and report according to topics that it finds are most useful, rather than tracking the order of the accreditation standards, the team may choose to follow that organization in offering suggestions for improvement in the team report and may determine compliance with accreditation standards by using information diffused throughout the self-study document. 


Whatever the type and organization of the self-study, compliance with each standard and with the standards as a whole will require interpretation by evaluators.  For example:

1. Mission: Each standard should be interpreted and applied in the context of the institution’s mission and situation.

2. Integrated Whole vs. Checklist: Evaluators must consider the totality created by the fundamental elements and any other relevant institutional information or analysis. Fundamental elements and contextual statements should not be applied separately as checklists. 

3. “Context” Sections: Not all parts of every statement in the Context sections will apply to every institution.

4. All Evidence: Information gathered during team visits may be used to supplement or contradict information included in the self-study.

5. Common Sense: Are the team’s conclusions consistent with each other, with the self-study, and with information gathered during the visit?  Does its report reflect understanding of this particular institution and its goals?



The Standards at a Glance


Institutional Context


Standard 1: Mission and Goals

The institution’s mission clearly defines its purpose within the context of higher education and indicates who the institution serves and what it intends to accomplish. The institution’s stated goals, consistent with the aspirations and expectations of higher education, clearly specify how the institution will fulfill its mission. The mission and goals are developed and recognized by the institution with the participation of its members and its governing body and are used to develop and shape its programs and practices and to evaluate its effectiveness.


Standard 2: Planning, Resource Allocation, and Institutional Renewal

An institution conducts ongoing planning and resource allocation based on its mission and goals, develops objectives to achieve them, and utilizes the results of its assessment activities for institutional renewal. Implementation and subsequent evaluation of the success of the strategic plan and resource allocation support the development and change necessary to improve and to maintain institutional quality.


Standard 3: Institutional Resources

The human, financial, technical, physical facilities, and other resources necessary to achieve an institution’s mission and goals are available and accessible. In the context of the institution’s mission, the effective and efficient uses of the institution’s resources are analyzed as part of ongoing outcomes assessment.


Standard 4: Leadership and Governance

The institution’s system of governance clearly defines the roles of institutional constituencies in policy development and decision-making. The governance structure includes an active governing body with sufficient autonomy to assure institutional integrity and to fulfill its responsibilities of policy and resource development, consistent with the mission of the institution.


Standard 5: Administration

The institution’s administrative structure and services facilitate learning and research/scholarship, foster quality improvement, and support the institution’s organization and governance.


Standard 6: Integrity

In the conduct of its programs and activities involving the public and the constituencies it serves, the institution demonstrates adherence to ethical standards and its own stated policies, providing support for academic and intellectual freedom.


Standard 7: Institutional Assessment

The institution has developed and implemented an assessment process that evaluates its overall effectiveness in achieving its mission and goals and its compliance with accreditation standards.


Educational Effectiveness


Standard 8: Student Admissions and Retention

The institution seeks to admit students whose interests, goals, and abilities are congruent with its mission and seeks to retain them through the pursuit of the students’ educational goals.


Standard 9: Student Support Services

The institution provides student support services reasonably necessary to enable each student to achieve the institution’s goals for students.


Standard 10: Faculty

The institution’s instructional, research, and service programs are devised, developed, monitored, and supported by qualified professionals.


Standard 11: Educational Offerings

The institution’s educational offerings display academic content, rigor, and coherence appropriate to its higher education mission. The institution identifies student learning goals and objectives, including knowledge and skills, for its educational offerings.


Standard 12: General Education

The institution’s curricula are designed so that students acquire and demonstrate college-level proficiency in general education and essential skills, including at least oral and written communication, scientific and quantitative reasoning, critical analysis and reasoning, and technological competency.


Standard 13: Related Educational Activities

The institution’s programs or activities that are characterized by particular content, focus, location, mode of delivery, or sponsorship meet appropriate standards.


Standard 14: Assessment of Student Learning

Assessment of student learning demonstrates that, at graduation, or other appropriate points, the institution’s students have knowledge, skills, and competencies consistent with institutional and appropriate higher education goals.