Newly Published “A Framework for Action” Guides System and Accreditor Interactions

Recognizing the need for accreditors to serve as partners with public higher education systems, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) was pleased to join a Lumina Foundation funded initiative to develop guidelines for engagement and effective partnership. The resulting “A Framework for Action” document was published at the end of March 2021 after consultation with executives of public systems and institutional and programmatic accrediting organizations.

“As a Commission, we understand the challenges and opportunities that come with working with systems, having seven reflected within our membership,” said MSCHE President Dr. Heather F. Perfetti. “Ultimately, this framework can serve as a guide for us and all of our public and private systems as we partner with the ultimate goal of better serving students.”

The 27 participants representing a broad spectrum of systems and accreditors met in large and small groups during the fall of 2020. In addition to Dr. Perfetti, Assistant Director for Institutional Support Services Ms. Diana Bonner represented MSCHE.

The framework document outlines five guidelines as well as three key areas of mutual understanding, with communication being one key area.

“MSCHE has always believed that communication is important, and we have leveraged not only our accreditation liaison officers (ALO) to work in concert with their systems but as a Commission have interfaced directly with system contacts,” said Ms. Bonner. “We see a lot of mutual value in nurturing system partnerships as a means for sharing our message as well as providing opportunities for systems to talk with us early and often about their changing priorities.”

Prior to the release of the framework, MSCHE had already initiated a series of virtual meetings, and before the pandemic face-to-face meetings, to engage systems that oversee member institutions. The importance of these open communications is evidenced, for example, by looking at the State University of New York (SUNY), the largest comprehensive university system in the United States with 64 campuses, including research universities, academic medical centers, liberal arts colleges, community colleges, colleges of technology and an online learning network.

“By working directly with our system partners, we can better support innovative practices, understand financial-related matters across the system, keep abreast of the changing higher education environment within our membership, and share any changes in Commission expectations on an ongoing basis,” said Dr. Perfetti. “Through this Lumina project, Ms. Bonner and I were able to highlight best practices that our Commission has adopted to engage with system partners, and we will continue to build upon that work with our systems.”

The framework was developed as part of a Lumina Foundation grant to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation with Dr. Judith Eaton, CHEA President emeritus, Dr. Barbara Brittingham, President emeritus of the New England Commission of Higher Education, and Sally Johnstone, President of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, serving as project co-coordinators.

To read “A Framework for Action” and learn more, click here.