Module Seven – Selection of the Team Members, the Team Chair’s Preliminary Visit, and Hosting the Self-Study Evaluation Visit

Selection of the Team Members

The evaluation process consists of two interrelated phases: a self-study, conducted by an institution and a peer review, conducted by an Evaluation Team.

The peer review process begins when the Commission selects a team of trained, knowledgeable and appropriate peer evaluators to visit the institution and conduct an on-site evaluation, based upon the institution’s Self-Study Report and the Commission’s Standards for Accreditation, Requirements of Affiliation, policies and procedures, and federal compliance requirements.

The Team Chair and other members of the team, who are selected for their qualifications, are expected to contribute to a thoughtful assessment of the institution within the framework of Commission expectations and within the context of the mission and goals of the institution. The team will evaluate the analysis in the Self-Study Report and draw upon the insights they gain from interviews during the visit. Evaluation team members and Team Chairs are volunteers who are selected from the academic community, preferably from among the MSCHE membership, to assist in ensuring the quality of higher education institutions and to help them improve.

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Selection of the Team Chair (Module 7, Section 1)

The Commission’s procedure for selecting the Team Chair is described in the Peer Evaluators Policy and Procedures.

In the development of the Self-Study Design, the institution is asked to include recommendations for the Evaluation Team Profile, including desired characteristics of the Team Chair. Based on these recommendations and other factors, including conflict of interest considerations, the Commission staff selects potential Team Chairs that best match the needs of the institutions being evaluated. The final assignment of peer evaluators to conduct any accreditation activity rests with Commission staff.

Approximately one year prior to the team visit, the Commission staff will contact the chief executive office of the institution being evaluated to propose a potential Team Chair for the evaluation team. After the chief executive officer affirms that there is no conflict of interest with the proposed Team Chair, the Commission staff will invite that individual to serve in that capacity. Please see Conflict of Interest: Commission Representatives.

Should the person being proposed to serve as Team Chair be unable to serve, the Commission staff will propose additional names to the chief executive officer.  After the proposed Team Chair accepts, the Commission staff notifies the institution and further information is sent to both the Team Chair and the institution. The institution should send a copy of the Self-Study Design to the Team Chair soon after the individual has been confirmed.

Below are some of the expectations that institutions might have for the Team Chair of their Evaluation Visit.

Expectations of Team Chairs
  • Respect for time and effort put into self-study
  • Respect for the institution’s expertise about itself
  • Collegiality with appropriate professional distance
  • Fairness, confidentiality, and integrity in the evaluation process
  • Expertise in applying standards and interpreting institutional conditions
  • Thorough preparation and earnest interest in the story of the institution
  • Consistency with role expectations and conduct of the visit
  • No conflict of interest with the institution
  • Substantive communication related to the Self-Study Report should be between the Team Chair and the institution’s key contacts as identified in the institutional portal.

 

Selection of the Vice Chair and Team Members (Module 7, Section 2)

Assembling the team of peer evaluators is a complicated process. The Commission staff assembles a team roster appropriate for each institution. The team selection will be informed by the institution’s Self-Study Design and will include experts in areas that align with the Commission’s Standards and the institution’s mission and priorities, and may include key areas such as finance, assessment, planning, faculty, academic affairs, student affairs, distance education, and other relevant areas. The Commission seeks to build balanced teams with different levels of experience, specific areas of expertise, institutional type, and diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender. The Commission’s procedure for selecting peer evaluators to conduct any accreditation activity is described in the Peer Evaluators Policy and Procedures. The final assignment of peer evaluators rests with Commission staff.

The Commission staff will invite potential peer evaluators with no known conflicts of interest and the appropriate qualifications, relevant experience or expertise, and training for the type of review. Once assigned, each peer evaluator must complete the Acceptance of Invitation and Statement of Ethical Conduct.

The institution will have the opportunity to review the team roster and affirm that there are no conflicts of interest with any individuals on the proposed team roster through the secure MSCHE portal. After all peer evaluators have accepted the invitations to serve, the institution should access the roster and copies of evaluator data forms to review whether there are any conflicts of interest. The evaluator data forms provide basic information about an evaluator’s areas of expertise, including educational credentials, professional experience, and prior accreditation service. The institution then confirms the roster by checking the appropriate one on the portal. Conflicts of interest are defined in the Commission’s Conflicts of Interest: Commission Representatives policy statement. The Commission staff will reassign a peer evaluator if a conflict of interest is identified. The Commission staff will revise the team roster until a team of peer evaluators with no known conflicts of interest is finalized.

Previously undisclosed conflicts may arise, without notice, through accreditation processes. In those cases, the Commission staff must be informed as soon as possible but not later than 5 calendar days by any party who has knowledge of an actual or perceived conflict so that Commission staff can work with the parties to maintain the integrity of the peer review process and adherence to Commission policy and procedures.

Setting the Visit Dates (Module 7, Section 3)

Once confirmed, the Team Chair will contact the institution’s chief executive officer and accreditation liaison officer to select dates for the visits, including the Chair’s Preliminary Visit and the Evaluation Team Visit. The institution will notify the Commission of the date for the Chair’s Preliminary Visit and the Evaluation Team Visit as soon as they have been set.  Once the dates are established, Commission staff can begin to invite peer evaluators. Early notification about the dates selected helps staff to produce a roster of prospective peer evaluators in a timely manner.

 

The Team Chair’s Preliminary Visit (Module 7, Section 4)

The Team Chair will visit the institution’s main campus approximately four to six months prior to the Evaluation Team Visit. The Team Chair’s Preliminary Visit assists the institution in understanding how the team will operate, and it assists the chair in planning how best to deploy the team. The purposes of the Chair’s Preliminary Visit are to:

  • Introduce the Team Chair to the institution, its people, and its environment so that the chair and team of peer evaluators can begin the upcoming On-Site Evaluation Visit efficiently and effectively.
  • Ensure that the self-study process and Evidence Inventory approach will support a useful Evaluation Team Visit.
  • Address practical preparation for the visit and to determine the institution’s readiness to host the visit.
  • If applicable, discuss the requirements and logistics for branch campus and additional location visits.

Institutions should work closely with the Team Chair to organize the schedule for the visit.  If the visit will be virtual, institutions should provide appropriate information about meeting platform and other technology resources and ensure that team members have sufficient access to technology and that the institution has sufficient capacity to address any problems that may arise during the visit.  If the visit will be onsite, the institution will assist with arrangements for travel, lodging, and local transportation to campus. Most Chair’s Preliminary visits last a single day, but in some cases, additional time may be necessary to accommodate schedules. Institutional representatives should be prepared to discuss with the Team Chair what they hope to achieve from the self-study process.

The institution should send the team chair a copy of the near-ready draft Self-Study Report, final meeting schedule, and any other requested materials two weeks before the preliminary visit occurs. These documents are sent via email and are not uploaded to the MSCHE portal. The Team Chair reviews the draft Self-Study Report to determine whether it is adequate to support the work of the evaluation team. It is in the institution’s best interest to seriously consider the feedback provided by the Team Chair and to revise the document as they see necessary.

Advance Planning and Other Preliminary Arrangements (Module 7, Section 5)

Accommodations. If the Self-Study Evaluation Visit will be onsite, the institution should make early reservations for the accommodations for the team, providing an individual room for each team member all at one location. Team membership will vary, depending upon the size and complexity of the institution as well as whether branch campuses and additional locations will be visited prior to or concurrent with the on-site evaluation visit. Therefore, at least 10 rooms should be reserved until the team size has been confirmed. Additionally, meeting space and appropriate technology should be made available at the hotel for team meetings. Somewhat different procedures may be needed for multi-campus institutions.

Technology.  If the Self-Study Evaluation Visit will be virtual, the institution will provide an appropriate virtual meeting platform to be used for all meetings.  The institution will set up all meetings and provide appropriate links to Evaluation Team members. It is advisable to conduct a technology check several days prior to the Self-Study Evaluation Visit to ensure that everyone is comfortable with the technology. For more information on planning virtual team visits, please see Virtual Site Visits: Tips for Meeting Participants, Virtual Site Visits: Tips for Institutions, and Virtual Site Visits: Tips for Preparing the Visit Agenda on the MSCHE website.

Branch Campuses and Additional Locations. After the date of the Self-Study Evaluation Visit is set, the Commission staff will provide the Team Chair and the institution with a list of branch campuses and additional locations currently included in the institution’s scope of accreditation and indicate how many sites must be visited. The Team Chair, in consultation with Commission staff and the institution, may decide which off-campus sites to visit as part of the evaluation. These must include each branch campus, and for institutions with four or more additional locations, one-third of the additional locations must be visited. The Commission may, at its discretion, determine that a different number of off-campus sites is representative and appropriate for a particular institution in special circumstances. These visits will occur either prior to or concurrent with the Self-Study Evaluation Visit to enable the Team Chair to complete the team report before the Commission’s required deadline. If the Self-Study Evaluation Visit will be virtual, the visits to branch campuses and/or additional locations will also be conducted virtually.

 

Other Participants Accompanying Evaluation Teams. Sometimes, teams will be accompanied by individuals who are not Commission representatives or who have dual responsibilities. These participants may include representatives from state education agencies, university systems, or evaluation team associates. State and system education agencies are notified when the dates for evaluation visits to institutions in their states are established each year. If the Commission receives names of individuals who will represent appropriate state or other agencies, these individuals will be included in the official team roster and will accompany the team at their own agencies’ expense. The other participants accompanying the Evaluation Team should have access to all materials relevant to the evaluation; however, because they do not have access to the MSCHE portal, the institution must ensure they receive copies of materials. These participants are observers of the process, and, under the general guidance of the team chair, are included in campus interviews. The Team Chair determines the extent to which such participants contribute to the team’s discussion. Like peer evaluators, these participants are bound by the Commission’s requirement of confidentiality. Further, these participants do not have a voice in determining the team’s proposed action to the Commission, nor do they contribute to the team’s report to the institution.

Preparing to Host the Self-Study Evaluation Visit (Module 7, Section 6)

Below are some important tasks to remember in preparing to host the Self-Study Evaluation Visit. Please note that some of the tasks described are specific for onsite Self-Study Evaluation Visits.  Whenever appropriate, options for virtual Self-Study Evaluation Visits are included.

At least six weeks prior to the Self-Study Evaluation Visit

  • The institution uploads all Self-Study materials (Self-Study Report and Evidence Inventory) to the MSCHE portal.
  • The institution ensures that all hotel accommodations have been finalized and arranges for direct billing.
  • Through communications with the Team Chair, the institution determines any travel assistance, technology needs, or dietary restrictions of the team members and makes necessary arrangements.
  • The Team Chair and members are given contact information for someone with institutional responsibility for travel and accommodations in the event assistance is needed prior to or during travel to the visit.
  • The visit coordinator arranges for meals and snacks on campus and at the hotel.
  • Arrangements are made to transport the team to and from the hotel and campus during the Self-Study Evaluation Visit.
  • IT staff members are identified to be available to assist the team with any technology needs.
  • The institution, in consultation with the Team Chair, finalizes the visit schedule including:
    • a “get acquainted” welcome program and meetings with various groups and individuals
    • daily meetings for the team chair and the institution’s president
    • an open session to allow an opportunity for any member of the institutional community to meet with the team
    • the exit meeting for the final day of the evaluation visit in a setting that allows for broad institutional participation
    • Sufficient time should be scheduled for substantive conversations during meetings, travel time between meetings, and opportunities for team meetings, meals, and document review during the course of the day.
    • Arrangements are made to have individuals (preferably students) escort the team to and from the various meeting venues.
    • Arrangements for visits to off-site locations, including branch campuses and additional locations, are finalized.

At least four weeks prior to the Self-Study Evaluation Visit

  • If the visit is onsite, the institution sends each team member:
    • a detailed campus map and directions to the campus
    • hotel and transportation information
    • a request that team members inform the institution of travel plans and contact information
  • If the visit is virtual, the institution sends each team member:
  • information on the meeting platform to be used
  • proposed dates and times for technology checks
  • information on technology support available to the team

Depending on the timing of the Self-Study Evaluation Visit, it may be necessary for the institution to provide the team updated documentation that may have become available after the deadline to submit the Self-Study materials to the MSCHE portal, such as the most recent audited financial statements or data on actual enrollment for the current semester.  In that case, the institution should provide a list of such documentation to the Team Chair, who will determine whether the institution should upload the materials to the Additional Documents section of the MSCHE portal.

During the Self-Study Evaluation Visit (Module 7, Section 7)

The visit usually begins on a Sunday afternoon and concludes with the exit report given by the Team Chair to the institutional community midday on the following Wednesday. Sample schedules are provided in the Resource Toolbox at the end of this module.

The First Day – The visit begins with an initial team meeting, the host’s “Get-Acquainted” program, and the first working session of the team. The “Get-Acquainted” program hosted by the institution in an informal setting may be a dinner or reception, or both, and usually occurs the first evening of the visit; it is the team’s first contact with the institution and sets the tone for the visit. The program should be simple and brief, not elaborate or expensive. Because the team visit is not a social occasion, it is important to guard the team’s time and the institution’s financial resources.

The Second and Third Days – The principal activities for the two days which follow include interviews with groups and individuals on campus and scheduled daily team meetings. It is not unusual for the team chair to request adjustments to the schedule while onsite. All efforts should be made to accommodate the team’s meeting request changes. It is also common that the team will request additional documentation during the visit. If additional documentation is requested, it should be uploaded to the Evidence Inventory in the MSCHE portal in the Additional Documents area.

During the visit, the team assesses the institution in the context of the Self-Study Report. Team members meet with faculty, students, staff, administrators, trustees, and other members of the institutional community to confirm and clarify the information provided in the Report and to gather additional perspectives, and in some cases, additional information that was not available to them prior to the visit. The team examines the documentation and spends the latter part of the visit assembling its findings into a Team Report. Please note that interviews should not be videotaped or otherwise recorded.

The institution may consider providing student or staff escorts to help the team and various campus meeting locations. Classroom visits are not a useful means of assessing institutional teaching and learning and should not be conducted as part of the visit. If visits to off-site locations occur during the Self-Study Evaluation Visit, the institution should arrange for travel and appropriate personnel to accompany the peer evaluator to the locations.

The Last Day – On the final day of the visit, the Team Chair will provide an oral version of the team report. All team members are present at this session, and it should be open to all members of the institution. The oral exit report is an internal event, external parties, such as the press, are not to be invited. As with campus interviews, the session should not be videotaped or otherwise recorded, or transmitted in any way beyond the campus community. At the conclusion of the oral exit report, the team promptly leaves the campus. There is no opportunity for questions or further interaction between the team and the institution.

During the oral exit report, the Team Chair will share the following findings:

  • For each standard, the chair will indicate whether or not, in the judgment of the team, the institution appears to meet the standard.
  • The team may also offer recommendations for improvement or requirements if non-compliance is indicated.
  • The Team Report may also identify an institution’s significant accomplishments, progress, or exemplary or innovative practices for each standard.

Activities after the Self-Study Evaluation Visit (Module 7, Section 8)

Team Report

The Team Chair will email the institution a written draft of the Team Report within 14 calendar days of the Self-Study Evaluation Visit. The institution will review the draft team report and, within the established deadlines, notify the Team Chair only of any factual errors. The institution should not use this opportunity to attempt to influence the content of the Team Report or to suggest that the team alter the findings or the tone of the report. The Team Chair will review the institution’s corrections of fact, finalize the Team Report, and upload it to the secure MSCHE portal. The institution may access the final Team Report in the secure MSCHE portal.

In its report, the Evaluation Team has the opportunity to offer non-binding collegial advice for institutional improvement and innovation. This advice may be based on the standards, MSCHE guidelines, institutional priorities, or professional experiences of the team. If the team determines that institutional action is needed to continue to meet one or more standards, the team will offer one or more of the Commission’s standardized recommendations. If the institution does not appear to meet one or more standards, the Team Report will issue a requirement and will state specifically in what ways the institution fails to meet a Standard for Accreditation or a Requirement of Affiliation.

Institutional Response

The institution will respond to the final Team Report in writing through an Institutional Response. The Institutional Response is in the form of a letter addressed to the President of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. It is typically 1-5 pages in length. Institutional Response should be brief, thoughtful, and forthright. It is an opportunity for the institution to react to the team’s findings and to acknowledge the team members for their time and expertise. The institution may concur with the team’s findings or honestly and openly present significant differences in perceptions, interpretation, or major findings. The institution may include new additional evidence or focused documents to support its statement. The Institutional Response will be uploaded directly to the secure MSCHE portal within established deadlines.

Chair’s Confidential Brief

The Team Chair will review and consider the Institutional Response and then prepare the Team Chair’s Confidential Brief. As the name suggests, this document is confidential and will be provided only to the Commission; the institution does not receive a copy. The brief will summarize the Team Report and include major findings; it cannot substantively alter the content or tone of the Team Report. The brief also will propose an accreditation action in accordance with the Commission’s Accreditation Actions Policy and Procedures. The Team Chair will upload the brief directly to the secure MSCHE portal.

Following is a summary of the various deadlines for reporting within the Self-Study Evaluation process. If the schedule of events is not met, the Commission may move consideration of the institution’s status to its next regular meeting.

Reporting Deadlines after the Evaluation Visit
Within 5 calendar days of visit conclusion Within 14 calendar days of visit conclusion Within 7 calendar days of receipt of the draft Within 5 calendar days of receipt of corrected draft Within 7 calendar days of final report being uploaded Within 5 calendar days of institutional response being uploaded
Commission notifies the chair and the institution of due dates for submission of final team report, confidential brief and institutional response Chair sends draft report to institution for correction of factual errors Institution returns corrected draft to the chair Chair uploads final report to the Commission’s portal Institution prepares formal institutional response to the team and uploads to the Commission’s portal Chair uploads a confidential brief to the Commission’s portal

Multi-Level Decision-Making Process

Following the Self-Study Evaluation Visit, the Commission, through its multi-level decision making process, will analyze all of the accreditation materials and any other appropriate information available to it. The Commission will take an accreditation action in accordance with its Accreditation Actions Policy and Procedures and Accreditation Review Cycle and Monitoring Policy and Procedures.

The Team Chair will participate in the next level of accreditation decision-making at the meeting of the Committee on Evaluation Reports.

Notification of Commission Action

The Commission will provide notification of accreditation actions in accordance with Communication in the Accreditation Process Policy and Procedures and federal regulation 34 CFR § 602.26.

Invoice Charges to the Institution

In addition to the Self-Study Institute fee, the Commission will invoice the institution for the following specific costs associated with self-study evaluation (Dues and Fees Procedures):

  • Self-Study Preparation Visit (travel expenses – for onsite SSPV)
  • Team Chair’s Preliminary Visit (travel expenses – for onsite visit)
  • Self-Study Evaluation Fee
  • Self-Study Evaluation Visit (travel expenses – for onsite visit – and honoraria for each peer evaluator)
  • Self-Study Site Visit Fees for each branch campus or additional location visited (travel expenses – for onsite visit – and honoraria for each visitor)

Keys to Success (Module 7, Section 9)

Keys to Success – Team Chair Visit

  • Early communication with the Team Chair is key to a successful Self-Study Evaluation Visit. If a Team Chair is not responsive, the institution should contact the Commission staff liaison as soon as possible. 
  • Communicate details of the Chair’s Preliminary Visit and the Self-Study Evaluation Visit to the entire campus community to increase awareness and generate excitement. 
  • Respond to team questions and requests for information prior to the visit in a timely manner. 
  • Welcome the team to campus as colleagues. 
  • Anticipate there will be glitches and surprises.
  • Remain flexible, responsive, and organized throughout the process. 

Keys to Success – Hosting the Site Visit

  • Set the visit dates as soon as possible and notify Commission staff.
  • Communicate with the Team Chair often, especially as you prepare to host the Team Chair’s Preliminary Visit.
  • If the actual Self-Study process has deviated from what was proposed on the Self-Study Design, let the Team Chair know and provide information on the rationale and details of the changes.
  • Plan to complete the draft of the Self-Study Report with enough time to send it to the Team Chair for review.
  • Prepare the institution for the Team Chair’s Preliminary Visit. Provide a brief profile of the Team Chair and let everyone know the purpose of the visit.
  • Team Chairs appreciate receiving institution information in advance to help them prepare and know what to expect when they visit.

Resource Toolbox (Module 7, Section 10)

Standard Agenda for the Team Chair’s Preliminary Visit

The following guidelines will assist you in organizing the timing, agenda, content, and participants for the Team Chair’s Preliminary Visit. The bulleted items are examples of what is regularly discussed during the meetings.

President/Chief Executive Officer of InstitutionThe President/CEO will provide a confidential briefing on the current status of institution and any current issues and/or challenges.

Governing Board RepresentativesThe Team Chair will request information on the role the governing board plays in institutional governance, ascertain the governing board’s involvement in the accreditation process, and answer questions about the accreditation process.

Key Administrative Officers The Team Chair will request information on the role the key administrative officers have played in the self-study process, provide summary feedback on the draft of the Self-Study Report, and answer questions about the accreditation process.

Steering CommitteeThe Team Chair and provide insight and comprehensive feedback on the draft of the Self-Study Report. If the institution has also provided early access to the Evidence Inventory, the Team Chair may also include feedback on the documentation.

Faculty, Staff, and Student RepresentativesThe Team Chair will explain the accreditation process and request information to ascertain the extent to which the faculty, staff, and students have been involved in the accreditation process, as well as assist the audience to understand their role in the Evaluation Team Visit.

Steering Committee Co-Chairs and Accreditation Liaison Officer – The Team Chair will gather information to facilitate the team’s evaluation visit.  The Chair may review the team roster for conflicts of interest if the roster is already available. If the Evaluation Team visit will be onsite, the Team Chair should be given a tour of those places where the team will spend much of its time, such as the meeting facilities and interview spaces. The Team Chair also should visit the hotel where the team will be housed. If off-site visits to branch campus(es) or additional location(s) are required, the institution should discuss visit dates and provide the travel logistics for the team members conducting these visits.

Sample Evaluation Team Schedule
Time
Team Chair
Standard I
Standard II
Standard III
Standard IV
Standard V
Standard VI
Standard VII
8:30–9:00
President/CEO
9:10–10:00
President’s Council
Chair pre-assigns timing and sequencing of team member’s questions and allows sufficient time for campus stakeholder’s response; leaves time for additional questions to be asked by team members
10:10–11:00
Planning Committee
Strategic Plan Assessment Committee
Planning Committee
Faculty Senate
Academic Support Directors
University Assessment Committee
Strategic Plan Assessment Committee
Faculty Senate
11:10–12:10
Steering Committee
12:10–1:00
Lunch Break
1:00–1:50
Chief Diversity Officer
Council of Chairs
Student Development Directors
Council of Chairs
Chief Financial Officer
Council of Chairs
2:00–2:50
President’s Chief of Staff
Admissions and Enrollment Management
Title IX Coordinator
Graduate Council
Admissions and Enrollment Management
Graduate Council
Academic Budget Officers
President’s Chief of Staff
2:50–3:30
Board of Trustees
3:30–4:30
Institutional Effectiveness
Institutional Research
Distance Education Director/Staff
Distance Education Director/Staff
Institutional Research
Institutional Effectiveness
4:30
Transportation to Hotel
5:30–6:30
Team Meeting
6:30–8:00
Team Dinner
8:00
Team Meeting

 

 

Disclaimer: The material provided in this guide was developed to provide clarity for the self-study process.  Commission Policy and Procedures will govern in the case of a conflict with this material. For any questions about an institution’s accreditation status or for additional information about MSCHE’s standards for accreditation, requirements of affiliation   policies, and procedures, you should contact MSCHE staff. This material is not intended as a substitute for professional advice from MSCHE staff and use of the material does not guarantee any specific accreditation outcome.