Early Preparation before the Self-Study Institute (Module 2, Section 1)
1. Brainstorming about Human Capital and Institutional Resources
Managing a successful self-study process requires a significant investment of time, energy, and institutional resources. A self-study process is usually most effective when an institution thinks early about the expertise and perspectives that various members of its community can bring to the process.
Institutional leaders might consider brainstorming early about:
- People who will play essential roles in the process;
- Expertise and background of individuals whose involvement will be important to the success of the process;
- Faculty and staff with expertise in the areas of the standards;
- People who regularly produce financial and institutional research information;
- Academic departments (chairs or program directors);
- People who provide assessment of student learning and educational goal data;
- People who provide perspectives about support for the educational experience; and
- People who provide data related to institutional effectiveness (programs and services)
2. Appointing Self-Study Steering Committee Co-Chairs and Members
Early in the process, the Commission communicates with the institution’s president, inviting the institution’s representatives to the Self-Study Institute. The president appoints Self-Study Steering Committee chairpersons whose background and expertise qualify them to lead the self-study process from beginning to end. The chairpersons work with the institution’s leadership to identify a core group of individuals who will serve as members of the Steering Committee. Since it is particularly important that there be adequate faculty involvement in the self-study process, appointment of a faculty co-chair may encourage such participation. Involvement of administrators is also important, and the appointment of an administrator as a co-chair may be helpful. The use of co-chairs allows representation from several groups, can be helpful in assuring a balance of the skills and attributes necessary for successful leadership of the self-study effort, and may be particularly useful at large, complex, or multi-campus institutions.
The Accreditation Liaison Officer (ALO) may or may not be involved in the leadership of the self-study process. However, at a minimum, the ALO continues to serve as the primary contact with MSCHE (Middle States Commission on Higher Education) staff and will be copied on all official communication. As such, the ALO should be cognizant of all activities related to the self-study process. Members of the Self-Study Steering Committee may be appointed or elected. When making the selection of Steering Committee members, institutions should carefully consider the abilities, credibility, availability, and skills of prospective members. Steering Committee members will need the time, resources, and authority to perform their duties.
Characteristics to consider in the Steering Committee membership:
- Familiar with the institution’s mission, goals, and planning processes;
- A sense of commitment to engaging in the self-study process and to evaluating the institutional priorities of the institution;
- A commitment to engaging in a self-study process that objectively and rigorously evaluates compliance with Commission expectations and the institution’s selected priorities;
- Broad institutional perspectives that transcend that of their own; and
- Represent various institutional constituencies and include adequate faculty and staff representation. Students and trustees should be involved in the self-study process as appropriate.
The Steering Committee provides leadership to the entire self-study process and their responsibilities include, but are not limited to:
- Consult with campus constituencies and identify areas of strength and opportunity associated with the achievement of the institution’s mission;
- Work with institutional leadership to identify 3–4 institutional priorities to be addressed in the self-study;
- Select the organizational approach to the institution’s self-study;
- Develop the Self-Study Design;
- Establish, charge, and oversee the Working Groups and coordinate their work;
- Ensure that the institutional priorities are adequately addressed in the Working Groups’ analysis;
- Review interim reports that will be used to write the final Self-Study Report;
- Ensure that the Timetable is implemented as planned;
- Employ a Communications Plan to effectively communicate within the institution;
- Identify the most important opportunities for improvement and innovation that will be included in the final Self-Study Report;
- Arrange for institution-wide review of and responses to a draft of the Self-Study Report;
- Oversee the completion of the final Self-Study Report, including the refinement of the Evidence Inventory and completion of the Verification of Compliance materials; and
- Oversee arrangements to host the Evaluation Team visit.
3. Accessing Commission Resources
The Steering Committee and its Working Groups can access Commission resources to orient themselves to the Commission’s expectations, including the standards for accreditation and requirements of affiliation, policies and procedures, and federal compliance requirements.
Regular review of resources on the Commission website such as webinars, instructional slides, publications, templates, and other resources that are available to member institutions engaging in the self-study process is always advisable. The Vice President for Institutional Field Relations (VPIFR) assigned to the institution is an excellent resource and should be consulted regarding any questions or concerns about the process.
4. Thinking about Evidence
The self-study process requires institutions to identify evidence (reports, assessment approaches, policies, bylaws, financial statements, etc.) that demonstrates compliance with the Commission’s expectations. It is usually a promising sign of success in the self-study process when institutions think early about how to collect and store evidence in ways that are direct, efficient, and cost-effective. Please note each institution will upload evidence into the MSCHE portal when the self-study report is finalized. More information is available in Module Seven.