In as concise and clear a manner as possible, the Self-Study Design should include all the sections described below. The SSD should be organized in such a way that it helps the Steering Committee and Working Groups conceptualize and organize the tasks before them to facilitate the self-study process.
The Self-Study Design contains the following elements:
1. Institutional Overview
Begin with a brief description of the institution, its mission (and where applicable, vision), key programs, important recent developments, key environmental factors, anticipated directions based on planning and assessment processes, student achievement trend information, enrollment and financial trend information, and steps taken to date to prepare for self-study. Common topics included in the Overview are institutional points of pride, recent unusual circumstances or institutional challenges, and substantive changes since the last self-study. This section creates a context for the shared understanding of institutional needs and priorities and is helpful to new members of the campus constituencies, the Vice President for Institutional Field Relations (VPIFR) and the Team Chair.
2. Institutional Priorities to be Addressed in the Self-Study
Provide a brief narrative about the three to four institutional priorities that will be evaluated through self-study including:
- The processes that were used to identify the priorities,
- How the institution has ensured that the selected priorities align with the institution’s mission, and
- How the institution has ensured that the selected priorities align with Commission Standards.
This information can be provided in narrative form only or both narrative and tables providing a “cross-walk” between elements of mission and the selected priorities, and between Commission Standards and the priorities.
The VPIFR reviews this section to determine if the institution has engaged in an open and inclusive process and has chosen priorities that are well-aligned with the institution’s mission and Commission Standards. The Team Chair uses this section to shape the work of the Evaluation Team.
You may use the sample tables below to identify which elements of the mission are aligned with the selected institutional priorities and how the priorities connect with the Standards.
Table 1: Sample Alignment of Mission with Institutional Priorities
|Mission Statement Elements
Stewardship of financial resources to support mission
Inclusive Campus Climate
Retention and Graduation
|Exceptional Educational Experiences
|Research and Scholarship
|Engagement and Impact (regionally, nationally, and globally)
Key Question: How well are elements of the institution’s mission aligned with our selected institutional priorities?
Table 2: Sample Alignment of Institutional Priorities with MSCHE Standards
Key Questions: How well do institutional priorities align with the Commission standards? In which standards will we address the institutional priorities?
3. Intended Outcomes of the Self-Study
The intended outcomes of the self-study should be based on a clear understanding of what the institution plans to achieve through self-analysis and should result from conversations with campus constituencies. For example, outcomes could focus on ways to integrate the self-study process with other institutional planning and renewal processes, thereby ensuring that the self-study will be as useful and meaningful as possible. At a minimum, this section of the Self-Study Design should include the following three outcomes but must contain at least one additional outcome based on the institution’s desired return on investment given the time and other resources put into planning for and writing an effective self-study report:
- Demonstrate how the institution currently meets the Commission’s Standards for Accreditation and Requirements of Affiliation.
- Focus on continuous improvement in the attainment of the institution’s mission and its institutional priorities.
- Engage the institutional community in an inclusive and transparent self-appraisal process that actively and deliberately seeks to involve members from all areas of the institutional community.
Remember that outcome statements need to be sufficiently specific, so the accomplishment is observable and or measurable. Outcome statements such as “increase diversity,” “increase equity,” “increase retention,” or “increase revenue” are too general and vague and do not show a clear connection to the process of self-study. The Self-Study process is an opportunity to explore and analyze potential opportunities for implementing programs and services that may lead to these ends, but the Self-Study process in itself is not intended to directly result in increases in enrollment, revenue, etc.
|Sample Self-Study Outcomes
- Capitalize on overlapping efforts of the institution’s new Strategic Plan and the self- study to advance our strategic priorities, identify gaps in the institutions readiness to implement such priorities, and recommend opportunities to achieve institutional mission and goals.
- Further embed educational effectiveness and overall assessment into the institution’s culture of continuous improvement.
- Enhance effort to link assessment with planning and improvements in student learning and achievement.
- Examine if the increase in alternative course delivery (on-line, hybrid, satellite sites) has affected the institutions mission and resource allocation.
Key Question: What does our institution hope to learn or gain through self-study?
4. Self-Study Approach
This section of the Self-Study Design should contain a brief explanation of, and rationale for, which of the two approaches the institution will utilize to organize its Self-Study Report and Working Groups:
- Standards-Based: Self-study chapters are organized by standard, for a total of seven chapters
- Priorities-Based: Self-study chapters are organized by selected priority, with potential additional chapters for those standards not addressed in the prior chapters
5. Organizational Structure of the Steering Committee and Working Groups
The Self-Study Design should include a charge for the Steering Committee and for each Working Group consistent with the self-study approach. Within the framework of the approach chosen by the institution, each Working Group is expected to engage in a process of active, open, and evidence-based inquiry, to identify institutional strengths, challenges, and opportunities for improvement and innovation.
For the Steering Committee, this section of the Self-Study Design should include:
- Names and titles of members of the Steering Committee with their positions of responsibility at the institution.
- Information about strategies the Steering Committee will use to encourage Working Groups to interact with one another in the interest of engaging in common areas of inquiry and reducing undue duplication of effort.
- A description of how the Steering Committee will provide oversight to the Working Groups.
- An initial description for how the Steering Committee will ensure that institutional mission, the 3 to 4 selected priorities, and the Commission’s Standards for Accreditation, Requirements of Affiliation, policies and procedures, and federal compliance requirements will be addressed in the Self-Study Report utilizing the institution’s existing evaluation and assessment information.
For each of the Working Groups, this section of the Self-Study Design should include:
- Names and titles of chairperson and members of each Working Group with their positions of responsibility.
- A description of which institutional priorities will be addressed (if it is a standard-based approach); or, a description of which standards will be addressed by each Working Group (in the case of a priorities-based approach).
- The Working Group’s charge and specific lines of inquiry Note: lines of inquiry are considered critical questions that develop or investigate a particular analytical focus. The lines of inquiry should relate directly to the institutional priorities and outcomes.
- Relevant assessment information, institutional processes, documents, and procedures that will be gathered, reviewed, summarized, and used by the Working Group to support assertions and conclusions in the Self-Study Report.
- Anticipated collaborations among the Working Groups and with key questions to address the lines of inquiry.
- Description of how the Working Groups will collaborate with individuals or groups responsible for compiling and maintaining the Evidence Inventory.
It is important that institutions take the time necessary to carefully consider the information contained in this section because it represents the institution’s initial strategies for engaging in self-study. The section addresses connections between Working Groups and the Steering Committee and among the Working Groups themselves.
6. Guidelines for Reporting
To guide the efforts of the Working Groups, the Self-Study Design should include:
- A list/description of all products to be completed by the Working Groups and Steering Committee, such as outlines, preliminary drafts, and final reports
- Deadlines for the submission of various draft documents and reports
- A template for the preparation of Working Group Reports
7. Organization of the Final Self-Study Report
The Self-Study Design should include an annotated outline of the organization and structure of the final Self-Study Report. At the very least, the outline should include the following elements:
- Executive Summary
- Chapter for each Standard or institutional priority
8. Verification of Compliance Strategy
Each institution is required to complete a Verification of Compliance with Accreditation-Relevant Federal Regulations process. The Self-Study Design should include a description of what strategy(ies) the institution will employ to successfully complete this process, including:
- What groups, offices or individuals will be responsible for the In cases where a separate Working Group has been organized to lead the institution through this process, the Self-Study Design should contain a listing of the group members’ names and titles.
- How those responsible for the Verification of Compliance process will communicate with the Working Groups and Steering Committee.
A template for submission of the Verification of Compliance is available at https://go.msche.org/Institutional-Federal-Compliance-Report
This report will be uploaded to the MSCHE portal as part of the evidence for Standard II, criterion 8 and will be reviewed by the team members as part of the Evaluation Team Visit.
9. Self-Study Timetable
To keep the Steering Committee and Working Groups on track, the Self-Study Design should include a timeline for every major step in the process, beginning with the early stages of on-campus planning activities and culminating with the Commission’s action approximately 2 to 2 ½ years later. In this section, the institution requests either a fall or spring evaluation visit. Institutions may use the overall project timeline as a starting point and make appropriate modifications to match the needs of their own campus community. The VPIFR reviews this section to confirm that the timetable is reasonable and that major milestones are achievable. There are sample timelines for a fall evaluation visit and a spring evaluation visit in the Resource Toolbox at the end of this module.
10. Communications Plan
The Steering Committee should develop an initial Communications Plan which will be used to regularly update institutional stakeholders about progress made during the self-study process, gather input, and feedback, and ensure an inclusive process. The Communications Plan to be included in the Self-Study Design identifies the purpose of the communication (e.g., gather input, update on progress, request feedback, etc.), the audiences with whom the Steering Committee will communicate, the methods to be used to communicate to these audiences, and the time(s) when information will be conveyed. A sample of such a plan can be found in the Resource Toolbox at the end of this module.
11. Evaluation Team Profile
The Evaluation Team Profile apprises the Commission about the preferred qualities, specific expertise, and backgrounds for consideration when selecting the team chair and team members. Commission staff will use this information during the development of the team roster. Please provide information for each of the following:
- Team Chair: Indicate the specific expertise desired in the Team Chair, such as experience at similar institutions, experience with the identified institutional priorities, or expertise in a program or process. The Team Chairs are usually chief executive officers, presidents, chief academic officers, or deans but may hold other positions within an institution. Please indicate a position preference as it is helpful in identifying an appropriate person.
- Peer Evaluators: The team usually includes evaluators that have expertise/experience with academic affairs, assessment, student affairs, faculty issues, and financial issues. As with the Team Chair, outlining specific expertise desired in the peer evaluators, such as expertise in a discipline or process, or a background working with a certain type of institution, will be helpful in identifying appropriate potential team members. If the institution has distance education programs, a team member will be identified with that expertise.
Additionally, this section should include information about the following:
- Institutions that are considered comparable peers, preferably among the Middle States membership;
- Institutions that are considered aspirational peers, preferably among the Middle States membership; and,
- Institutions whose representatives might present conflicts of interest, as outlined in the Commission’s policy Conflict of Interest: Commission Representatives.
- A listing of the institution’s top programs by enrollment would also be helpful.
Although the institution’s expressed preferences will be given careful consideration, The final decision about team membership remains with the Commission and its staff.
12. Strategies for Managing the Evidence Inventory
The Evidence Inventory is a helpful, organizational tool that allows an institution to arrange existing institutional documentation gathered for use during self-study by Standard, Criterion, and Requirement of Affiliation. This section will contain the institution’s strategies for populating and managing the Evidence Inventory within the MSCHE portal.
Institutions utilize various strategies to initially populate and then re ne the Evidence Inventory. One strategy is to assign a member of the Steering Committee to consult with key personnel on campus who can help with the documentation process. Another strategy is to organize a specific Working Group for this task. More detailed information on the Evidence Inventory is found in Module Six.