A Message from MSCHE President Dr. Heather F. Perfetti

Dr. Heather F. Perfetti

Watch the welcome message at https://youtu.be/i_v-ovoaPQo

It is a privilege and honor to begin my journey as the ninth President of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. I want to express my appreciation to the Commission for appointing me to this important position so that I may carry forward the good work of our Commission while offering stability at a time when that has become more critical than ever.

This Commission is more than a brand with three pillars that speak to protecting the future, guiding for good, and setting the standard … we are a community of dedicated professionals who assure trust and confidence in higher education for our students, for the public, and for our member institutions.  That will remain unwavering under my leadership, as we honor the strong history and foundation of this Commission while adopting new and innovative approaches to our work and strengthening our voices about accreditation.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has presented challenging and unprecedented times, both personally and professionally for all of us. Institutions will confront tough decisions ahead, especially those that may have been financially fragile before we even heard the term COVID-19.  Our goal is to lend support to our institutions in a way that allows for the implementation of decisions with integrity, grounded in the Commission’s requirements, standards, policies, and procedures.

Despite these challenges, I remain excited about the future of higher education and the strategic priorities of our Commission.  While we will be focused on initiatives designed to fulfill our mission and values and ultimately benefit our institutions and students, we too have a voice and responsibility in promoting social justice, standing against systemic racism, and promoting change through our own work, through our member institutions and their communities, and through the over two million students served by our institutions.  We will continue to leverage the work of accreditation to promote equity, access, and success in educational climates that foster respect from a range of diverse backgrounds, ideas, and perspectives.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education and its members will continue to collectively serve as a model for the higher education community throughout the world.  For those of you who have been actively engaged with us, I ask that you continue your commitment to the Commission.  For those interested in becoming more engaged with us, we invite your contributions and will be sharing more in the days ahead about how you can partner with us.

An exciting announcement that coincides with the start of my presidency relates to changes in the regulatory environment and the direction that our Commission has determined it will go as a result of an already-expanding membership. As you are aware, the regulations that went into effect on July 1, 2020, allowed for regional accreditors to consider membership expansion, although the regulations did not require it. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education has been considering what this could mean for our organization since the publication of those regulations on November 1, 2019.  The Commission made two important decisions that relate both to domestic and international accreditation at its meeting on June 25, 2020.

  • The Commission will expand the acceptance of domestic applications beyond its current geographic boundaries, effective immediately.
  • The Commission also will lift its moratorium on international applications beginning January 1, 2021.

The Commission has proudly journeyed where our members have taken us—making us a global enterprise with a global footprint.  We have been supporting the work of accreditation in 48 states, two U.S. Territories, the District of Columbia, and 94 countries.  The Commission, as a result, determined that it no longer needs to be defined by the simplicity of regional geographic boundaries. The decision to consider institutions outside of a defined region is one that the Commission did not take lightly. It resulted from the exploration of the changing landscape of higher education, the important role we serve in supporting that change, and the Commission’s unwavering commitment to its mission and values no matter where we do business. While this positioning may have been prompted by the new regulatory environment, this decision about the Commission’s future was not driven by it.  We are not changing the name under which we do business, and we are not changing the rigor we expect of institutions that carry our accreditation.  We know you may have questions about this, and we will be prepared to answer them in the days ahead and in virtual venues where we will come together to discuss accreditation matters with you.

I would like to take this opportunity to share other strategic priorities of the Commission.

  • We will stay focused on data that influences decision-making so that our institutions can benefit from learning more about themselves and each other. The Commission still subscribes to the principle that context remains critically important when examining data to fully understand what it may reveal about an institution.
  • We will consider alternative sources of financial support for the increasingly complex work of accreditation, including the pursuit of grant projects that align with the Commission’s mission, principles, and vision.
  • We can and will build a more proactive voice about accreditation. We will engage in increased advocacy efforts to more proactively educate constituents about the value of accreditation, its positive impact on institutions and students, and we will serve as an independent and engaged voice across the higher education landscape.
  • We will continue to think and talk forward. We will explore ways that we can be more innovative and how we can better support, highlight, and celebrate innovation that is occurring across the membership.  Your good work deserves to be recognized, and we will embrace new ways to feature it as part of an overall message tied to accreditation.
  • We will consider the ways that the Commission engages in its work and whether an alternative structure may be necessary to support the changing nature of accreditation, and its more modern demands. Believe it or not, our requirements and standards are also scheduled for evaluation.  We will need to begin to have conversations about the ways we can improve the language of our requirements and standards or our accreditation processes.  While the transition to the new standards and a new cycle of accreditation has been a success, much like our institutions we too need to determine where we can benefit from improvements by pausing and taking the time to conduct assessments.  Your input will be especially important.

With all that we look forward to as a Commission, we also face challenges along with our institutions.  I am confident that the exceptional work taking place before the pandemic, and that which has surfaced during the pandemic, has readied us for a shifting higher education landscape.  Even in these most difficult of days, together we will continue to support a future that respects mission-driven peer review, balances it with accountability, and encourages innovation, all within the framework of standards that place student learning and the student experience at the center of what we do.

Please continue to see the Commission as a partner and outreach to us when we can be of assistance.

I have said this before, and I reiterate it here:  We are in this together.