Middle States Commission on Higher Education


Frequently Asked Questions

What are the "self-study" & "peer review" processes?

The Institution’s Design for Self-Study
What the Institution Wishes to Accomplish with Its Self-Study

An Institution scheduled for its decennial evaluation first prepares a Design for Self-Study, a document that outlines how it intends to approach its self-study and peer review. The Design includes the rationale, scope, expected outcomes, questions that it intends to answer during the self-study (charge questions), participants, and timetable for the self-study process.

Commission Staff Approval & Visit
Consultation by Commission Staff

A Commission staff member assigned as liaison to the institution under review examines the self-study to verify that it meets the requirements of the Commission and what is known about the institution’s current needs. This staff member then conducts a staff visit to the institution to prepare it for self-study, discussing Commission procedures, the role of the self-study in the life of the institution, and answering any questions the institution may have about what the Commission expects. The institution is also invited to send up to three representatives to attend a Self-Study Institute and receive further training in the process.

The Self-Study Process
How the Institution Examines its own Programs and Services
(Click here for a diagram of the self-study process at an institution.)

The institution first appoints a Steering Committee to lead the self-study process, including establishing working groups that represent the campus community, developing charges to guide the working groups as they study specific aspects of the institution identified in the Design, monitoring and supporting their progress, and receiving their written reports.

The Steering Committee then develops a draft report, based on the various reports of the working groups, and organizes campus-wide discussion of the drafts to ensure that input is received from all of the various campus constituencies. These discussions may be held in face-to-face sessions or through the campus intranet or both.

The Steering Committee then prepares a final Self-Study Report, incorporating appropriate comments and perspectives, and the institution disseminates the report according to the Commission’s guidelines.

The Periodic Review Report
How the Institution Re-examines Its Progress and Accomplishments

The Periodic Review Report (PRR) is a retrospective, current, and prospective analysis of an institution, due five years after an institution's first self-study and each subsequent decennial self-study and reaffirmation of accreditation. Individual institutional circumstances occasionally may warrant earlier submission at the Commission's request.

First, the PRR is an essential phase of the accreditation cycle, and as such it should demonstrate that the institution continues to meet the standards by which the Commission reaffirms or denies accredited status. In addition, the preparation of a PRR, like that of a self-study document, provides opportunities for constructive discussion among the institution's several constituencies, bringing various points of view to the consideration of recent institutional developments and current institutional issues. A successful PRR process allows an institution to reflect upon and acknowledge its progress and accomplishments and to develop plans or create consensus regarding important next steps.

The Peer Review Process
How Other Educators Evaluate the Institution

A: The Decennial Evaluation

Prior to the full team visit, the Chair of the team makes a preliminary visit to the institution to ensure that it is indeed ready for a team visit, to establish the schedules, to clarify the expectations of both parties, and to ensure that the team receives in advance any basic materials needed to understand the institution and its context.

At the time of the evaluation visit, the team conducts numerous interviews with administrators, faculty, staff, students, trustees, and any other constituents that may be relevant to the self-study. The team members discuss their findings with each other and arrive at a consensus. The Chair writes the team’s report, which the Chair transmits to the Commission and to the institution, and presents a brief to the Commission that summarizes the report and includes the recommendation that the team makes for Commission action.

The Institution’s response to the team report, submitted to the Commission in writing, is expected to clarify any issues of fact in the team report, and the Commission staff liaison also is available to the Commission to provide background information on the institution if necessary.

The Commission delegates to the Committee on Evaluation Reports the in-depth discussion of the institution’s self-study, the team report, the institution’s response to the team report, the Chair’s brief, and any comments by staff. The Committee makes a preliminary determination, which the full Commission then considers, approves, amends, or rejects as specified in the policy statement, “Range of Commission Actions on Accreditation.”

The institution then disseminates the Commission’s action, which may include issuing an affirmation of accreditation, a requirement for follow-up activities, an order to show cause why accreditation should not be removed, or the removal of accreditation.

B: The Periodic Review Report

The institution prepares a PRR by organizing a committee to coordinate the effort, reviewing documents relating to the previous decennial evaluation and Commission action, collecting and analyzing other essential data, drafting and finalizing the report, and submitting the report to the Commission.

The Commission then appoints external reviewers and a financial analyst to review the report and its accompanying data, and the institution has the right to submit a formal response to the reviewers' reports. 

A committee of the Commission considers the reports from the institution, the reviewers, and any institutional response. The committee then forwards its recommendation to the Commission for action.

Possible Follow-up
Activities that May be Required as a Result of Peer Review

In its accreditation action, the Commission may require the institution to complete specific follow-up activities to improve the institution’s situation before accreditation can be reconsidered, and to report on these activities in one of the following follow-up reports: a Progress Report, which is sent directly to the Commission; or a Supplemental Information Report or a Monitoring Report, either of which may require a staff visit or a visit by a small team in addition to the institution’s report.

The Committee on Follow-up Activities/Candidate Institutions reviews the follow-up report and makes a recommendation to the full Commission whether the institution’s accreditation should be affirmed or whether other actions are necessary. The Commission acts on these recommendations by either accepting the report and affirming accreditation, acknowledging receipt but requiring further follow-up activities, or rejecting the institution’s report. In the latter instance, the Commission’s final action may result in the removal of accreditation.