Celebrating the Past, Present, and Future at the MSCHE 2019 Annual Conference

Diane Auer Jones, Principal Deputy Under Secretary U.S. Department of Education, was a plenary speaker at the MSCHE 2019 Annual Conference. This year the Middle States Commission on Higher Education recognized its 100th anniversary among other celebrations.

There was a lot to celebrate at the Middle States Commission on Higher Education’s 2019 Annual Conference. It was after all the 100th anniversary of the Commission and its 25th Annual Conference. The Conference was especially meaningful as MSCHE also celebrated the legacy of its retiring President Dr. Elizabeth H. Sibolski. In addition, the Commission took the opportunity to unveil its new branding that will be rolled out in early 2020.

All that took place against the backdrop of the theme Innovating for Student Success: New Ideas, Practices, and Services in Higher Education as 1,300 attendees—one of the largest gatherings ever—from across the MSCHE region descended on the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown Hotel from Dec. 9-11, 2019.

Two plenary speakers set the tone of the Conference through bookend keynotes. Dr. Karen A. Stout, President of Achieving the Dream, spoke to the role accreditation plays in institutional and student success. During her presentation, Dr. Stout provided thoughtful insights and pathways into better aligning institutional goals with achieving student equity in outcomes.

On the final day of the conference, Diane Auer Jones, Principal Deputy Under Secretary U.S. Department of Education, gave an inside perspective of the federal regulations resulting through negotiated rule making and their impact on accreditation. In particular, Ms. Jones highlighted the removal of the regional label for accreditors and talked about the latest news from Congress of funding for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

While the plenary addresses brought all attendees together, spread throughout the Conference were a record number of small-group concurrent sessions that drilled down on the Conference theme while showcasing some of the best practices by member institutions. There were also opportunities for presidents and provosts as well as accreditation liaison officers and peer evaluators to get updates and engage with Commissioners and MSCHE staff. The Exhibit Hall hosted over 30 exhibitors who showcased their products and services while serving as a focal point during attendee’s breaks. Attendees enjoyed a new print-on-demand personalized registration process and a downloadable app, which provided all of the details relating to the Annual Conference through their mobile devices.

During the special reception to highlight the 100th anniversary and Dr. Sibolski’s retirement, the Commission commemorated its past, present, and future. Outgoing Commission Chair Dr. Margaret M. McMenamin, President of Union County College, traced the history of the Commission, noting that “there is one central theme that can be found woven through our history, and that is the continuous reflection and evolution of the commitment by the Commission to institutional improvement, student learning, and innovation that will carry us into the next century.”

As the focus of the reception shifted to celebrating the legacy of Dr. Sibolski, it was remarked how much had transpired during the 10 years of her presidency ranging from the Commission’s separation from the Middle States Association to new standards and a renewed accreditation review cycle to an emphasis on assessment supportive of innovation with accompanying technological advancement to support the work of the Commission.

“It’s been an honor and a pleasure to serve as the head of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education,” Dr. Sibolski told the attendees “It truly is a pleasure to work with the people who represent the institutions … and certainly a pleasure to get to know the representatives of the institutions and the public who come to be members of the commission and who are responsible for the decisions about accreditation that are made.”

Former Commissioner Dr. George A. Pruitt, President Emeritus and Board Distinguished Fellow at Thomas Edison State University, who was invited to speak about Dr. Sibolski legacy and her impact on the Commission and its members remarked:

“Under Beth’s leadership … we didn’t just transform the standards, we threw away the standards and started all over again. We didn’t just change and redo the processes and procedures by which we assess, define, and measure quality, we threw them in the waste basket and started all over again. Not that what was done before was wrong, but what had to be done today, had to be different than what was done before if we were going to continue and be effective in our role, and Beth led that transformation.”

President-Elect Dr. Heather F. Perfetti, who will assume the presidency on July 1, 2020, gave attendees a glimpse into the future with the unveiling of new branding for the Commission. Dr. Perfetti reflected on the results of the rebranding project, which included interviews from across the higher education landscape.

“There is no surprise that the Middle States Commission on Higher Education’s identity was tied so closely to assuring trust and instilling confidence in higher education. It is a point of pride for us. Affirmation came forward that we continue to be a Commission focused on outcomes for our students, for the public, and for our member institutions – representing the highest levels of commitment to academic rigor and achievement.”

With the future of the Commission being chartered, MSCHE will return to Philadelphia from Dec. 2-4, 2020, for its Annual Conference with the theme Learning from Change and Bringing the Future into Focus.

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2019 Annual Conference