The Commission determines that an institution meets accreditation standards based on evidence that is presented in materials offered by the institution in its self-study process, and this evidence must be validated by educators from other institutions during the peer review process.
Through the self-study process (see Policies & Procedures.) an institution first evaluates itself to determine how well it is meeting its own goals and the Commission's standards. A cross-section of the campus community is expected to participate in this process, which results in a detailed report called a self-study report.
Through peer review (see Policies & Procedures.), the Commission appoints a team of experts from similar colleges and universities to evaluate the institution. This team of evaluators, led by a team Chair, reads the self-study report and other background materials, and visits the institution to gather additional information and perspectives from faculty, staff, students, administrators, and community members.
The team Chair summarizes the team's findings in a written team report, which assesses whether the institution is meeting (1) its own mission and goals, as described in the institution's self-study and (2) Commission standards, as described in Standards for Accreditation and Requirements of Affiliation. The Chair also prepares a separate document, called the "Chair's Brief," which is addressed only to the Commission on Higher Education. The brief summarizes the chief points in the team report and makes a formal, confidential recommendation on the institution's accreditation.
A committee of the Commission reviews the self-study report, the team report, the Chair's brief, and the institution's response to the written team report and makes a recommendation to the full Commission. The Commission discusses the institution and takes an official action. This action may be one of several outlined in the policy statement, Accreditation Actions.
One of these actions may require the institution to complete some form of follow-up activity (see Policies & Procedures.), which may be followed by a written report to the Commission and sometimes an abbreviated form of peer review, carried out by a small visiting team.
In the period between evaluation visits, special circumstances may arise which result in more frequent evaluations. For example, major changes at an institution can affect its daily operations, and institutions sometimes create programs at a new degree level, establish branch campuses, or offer degree programs through non-traditional methods of delivery. Commission staff review these institutional changes and consider what level of peer review may be appropriate.
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