Module Seven – Hosting an On-Site Evaluation Visit
The evaluation process consists of two interrelated phases: a self-study, conducted by an institution, and 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 on-site interviews. Evaluation team members and team chairs are volunteers who are selected from the academic community within the Middle States region and throughout the nation to assist in ensuring the quality of higher education institutions and to help them improve.
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The Team Chair and Team Members
The Commission’s procedure for selecting team chairs and members is described in Peer Evaluators Policy and Peer Evaluators Procedures. In the Self-Study Design that the institution prepared at the beginning of the self-study process, the institution was invited to include suggestions concerning the characteristics of the Team Chair and peer evaluators it believes should visit the institution at the conclusion of the self-study process. Based on these suggestions and other factors, Commission staﬀ invite potential team chairs that best match the needs of the institutions being evaluated. Figure 1 illustrates some of the expectations that institutions might have for the chair of their On-Site Evaluation Visit.
|What Institutions Expect of Teams and Chairs
- Respect for time and effort put into a self-study;
- Respect for the institution’s expertise about itself;
- Collegiality with appropriate professional distance;
- Fairness and integrity;
- 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; and
- No conflict of interest.
|Figure 1: Expectations of Teams and Chairs
Selection of the Team Chair. Approximately one year before the scheduled On-Site Evaluation Visit, the Commission staff liaison contacts the president of the institution being evaluated during the next academic year to propose a potential team chair. After the president affirms that there is no conflict of interest with the proposed chair, the Commission staff liaison invites the proposed chair to serve and provides that individual with information on the institution. Please see Conflict of Interest. Should the person invited to serve as chair be unable to serve, the Commission staff liaison proposes additional names to the president of the institution being evaluated. The institution should send a copy of the Self-Study Design to the Team Chair after he or she has been confirmed.
Selection of Team Members. 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.
After all peer evaluators have been invited and confirmed, the institution may 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.
Setting the Visit Dates
Once confirmed, the Team Chair will contact the institution’s president to select dates for the visits, including the Chair’s Preliminary Visit and the On-Site Evaluation Visit. The institution will notify the Commission of the date for the Chair’s Preliminary Visit and the On-Site Evaluation 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 for the Team Chair and institution to review at the time of the Chair’s Preliminary Visit to determine any potential conflicts of interest. The final assignment of peer evaluators to conduct any accreditation activity rests with the Commission.
On-Site Evaluation Visits are normally three and a half days in length, typically beginning on a Sunday afternoon and ending on the following Wednesday afternoon. Visits should be scheduled to avoid conflicts with holidays or special institutional events. Visits must occur while classes are in session.
The dates for the on-site evaluation visit may be influenced by the institution’s interest in receiving its accreditation decision by a certain time. Ordinarily, accreditation decisions are made at the March Commission meeting for those institutions visited between September 2 and December 15, at the June Commission meeting for institutions visited between December 16 and April 15, and at the November Commission meeting for institutions visited between April 16 and September 1 of a given year.
The Team Chair’s Preliminary Visit
The Team Chair will visit the institution’s main campus approximately four to six months prior to the On-Site Evaluation Visit. The 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 document will support a useful On-Site Evaluation Visit.
- Address practical preparation for the visit and to determine the institution’s readiness to host the visit.
Institutions should work closely with the Team Chair to assist with travel and lodging and organizing the schedule for the visit. Most Chair’s Preliminary visits last a single day, but in some cases, additional time may be necessary to accommodate schedules. The institution should send the team chair a copy of the draft Self-Study Report, final meeting schedule, and any other requested materials two weeks before the preliminary visit occurs.
At the time of the Chair’s Preliminary Visit the Team Chair will meet with the President, Steering Committee, governing board representatives, student and faculty representatives, and other campus leaders, as appropriate. The Team Chair will provide insight and feedback into the draft Self-Study Report and gather information to facilitate the team’s evaluation visit. Institutional representatives should be prepared to discuss what they hope to achieve from the self-study process. The Chair’s Preliminary Visit will also be used to review the team roster for conflicts of interest, and the travel logistics for any required off-site visits.
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.
|Reminders for the Team Chair’s Preliminary Visit
|Prior to the Chair’s Preliminary Visit
- Has the institution sent a copy of its Self-Study Design to the Team Chair?
- Has the Team Chair been in contact with the institution to set dates for the Chair’s Preliminary Visit and the On-Site Evaluation Visit?
- Has the institution sent a copy of its draft self-study to the Team Chair at least two weeks prior to the Chair’s Preliminary Visit?
- Has the institution consulted with the Team Chair to develop a schedule and agenda for the Chair’s Preliminary Visit?
- Has the institution identified hotel accommodations for the team to be shown to the Team Chair during the preliminary visit?
|Following the Preliminary Visit
- If not previously communicated, has the institution contacted Commission staff regarding any perceived conflicts of interest among the team members?
|Figure 2: Institutional Reminders for the Chair’s Preliminary Visit
Advance Planning and Other Preliminary Arrangements
Accommodations. The host institution should make early reservations for the team accommodations, 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.
Additional Locations and Branch Campuses. After the date of the On-Site Evaluation Visit is set, the Commission staff will provide the Team Chair and the institution with a list of branch campuses and additional locations 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 more than three 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 On-Site Evaluation Visit to enable the Team Chair to complete the team report before the Commission’s required deadline.
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 On-Site Evaluation Team have access to all materials relevant to the evaluation and may participate as observers, under the general guidance of the team chair, 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 for the On-Site Evaluation Visit
At least six weeks prior to the On-Site Evaluation Visit, the institution must upload all self-study materials to the MSCHE portal. Peer evaluators will begin studying these documents as soon as they are accessible.
Prior to the team’s arrival, the institution ensures that all hotel accommodations have been finalized and arranges for direct billing. Through communications with the Team Chair, the institution should determine any travel assistance, technology needs, or dietary restrictions of the team members and make necessary arrangements. The Team Chair and members should be given contact information for someone with campus responsibility for travel and accommodations in the event assistance is needed prior to or during travel to the campus. The campus should arrange for meals and snacks on campus and at the hotel. Arrangements should be made to transport the team to and from the hotel and campus during the On-Site Evaluation Visit. It is suggested that IT staff members 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 should be scheduled for the team chair and the institution’s president. An open session should be scheduled to allow an opportunity for any member of the campus community to meet with the team. Arrangements for visits to off-site locations, including branch campuses and additional locations, should be finalized as well. 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. The exit meeting should be scheduled for the final day of the on-site evaluation visit in a setting that would allow for broad campus participation.
At least four weeks before the visit, the institution sends each team member:
- A detailed campus map and directions to the campus;
- Transportation information; and
- A request that team members inform the institution of travel plans and contact information.
During the On-Site Evaluation Visit
Team Schedule. 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. 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 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 while onsite. If additional documentation is requested, it should be uploaded to the Evidence Inventory in the MSCHE portal in the designated 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 campus 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.
The institution may consider providing student or staff escorts to help the team find 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 will occur during the course of the on-site evaluation visit, the institution should arrange for travel and appropriate personnel to accompany the peer evaluator to the locations.
The Exit Report
On the final day of the visit, the Team Chair will provide an oral exit report. After meeting with the institution’s president, the Team Chair presents an oral version of the team report to the campus. 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.
All team members are present at this session and it should be open to all members of the internal campus community. However, because the oral exit report is an internal event, external parties, such as the press, should not be invited. Furthermore, 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.
The Team Report
The institution will receive a written draft of the Team Report within 10 business days of the On-Site Evaluation Visit. At that point, the institution may correct errors of fact. After the final Team Report has been uploaded to the MSCHE portal, the institution will be given the opportunity to upload an Institutional Response to provide additional clarification or analyses, or to accept the content of the report.
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 or a Requirement of Affiliation. Following the On-Site 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 Accreditation Actions Procedures.
Following is a summary of the various deadlines for reporting within the Self-Study Evaluation process. If the schedule of events 1 – 6 is not met, the Commission may move consideration of the institution’s status to its next regular meeting.
Table 1: Reporting Deadlines
Keys to Success
- Early communication with the Team Chair is key to a successful On-Site 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 On-Site 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. Keep your team happy!
- Welcome the team to campus as colleagues.
- Remain flexible, responsive, and organized throughout the process.
Typical Team Visit Schedule
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.