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Middle States FAQs August 2013

Frequently Asked Questions for Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Distributed August 2013

In November 2012, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (Middle States) issued a warning to HACC regarding the College’s performance on three of the Commission’s 14 standards. On Sept. 24 and 25, 2013, a review team from Middle States will visit the College.

Following are questions and answers to help you understand the process and its high level of importance.

About Middle States

1. What is Middle States Commission on Higher Education?
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education is a regional accrediting organization that reviews institutions to determine their compliance with U.S. Department of Education regulations. Middle States reviews institutions in their entirety against its standards for higher education.

2. What is accreditation?
Accreditation is a means of voluntary self-regulation and peer review by the educational community. Middle States and its evaluators use information provided by institutions, on-site interviews and research to determine whether an institution meets Middle States’ standards for accreditation.

3. How are institutions evaluated?
Middle States uses 14 standards of accreditation and 10 requirements of affiliation. For more information, see Middle States’ publication, Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education (http://www.msche.org/publications/CHX-2011-WEB.pdf).

4. How many schools have been placed on warning or probationary status? How common is this?
In an effort to align institutions with the Characteristics of Excellence, there are Colleges on warning for a failure to adequately document evidence of continuous improvement. Previously, in our local area, both Lebanon Valley College and Penn State University were put on warning, but those warnings have been lifted.

5. How do I find out if a college or university is accredited?
All institutions accredited by Middle States are listed on its website (http://www.msche.org/). If the institution is not listed, it is not currently accredited by Middle States.

6. How can I learn more about the Middle States Commission on Higher Education?
The Middle States’ website (https://www.msche.org/) includes Commission policies, publications, accreditation resources and contact information. Under the “About Us” button, there is a link to Frequently Asked Questions about Middle States and accreditation. HACC’s Warning

7. For HACC, what are the areas of concern for Middle States?
Middle States issued a warning that HACC’s accreditation may be in jeopardy because of insufficient evidence the institution is in compliance with three of the commission’s 14 standards.

The standards that are in question are Standard 7 (Institutional Assessment), Standard 12 (General Education) and Standard 14 (Assessment of Student Learning).

In particular, Middle States is concerned that HACC is lacking in:

  • An organized and sustainable assessment process, including direct measures, to improve institutional effectiveness with evidence that assessment information is used in budgeting, planning and resource allocation and to gain efficiencies in programs, services and processes (Standard 7).
  • An organized and sustainable process to assess the achievement of expected student learning outcomes in all programs, including General Education, with evidence that assessment information is used to improve teaching and learning (Standards 12 and 14).

8. What does a warning really mean?
The Commission places an institution on warning when, in the Commission’s judgment, the institution is not in compliance with one or more of the Commission’s Requirements of Affiliation and Accreditation Standards. When the Commission warns an institution, it believes that the institution has the capacity to make appropriate improvements within a reasonable time period and to sustain itself in the long term. A follow-up report, called a monitoring report, is required to demonstrate that the institution has made appropriate improvements to bring itself into compliance. A small team visit also is conducted to verify institutional status and progress. A warning does not indicate that an institution will lose its accreditation.

9. Has HACC had this kind of warning before?
No. HACC has never had this kind of warning before.

10. What was HACC’s status before the warning was issued?
The College has been accredited by Middle States since 1967 and was last reaffirmed on June 28, 2007.

11. How did the warning happen?
College officials were told in 2007 that the warning would occur if improvements noted at that time were not made. HACC was required to submit a Periodic Review Report (PRR) in June 2012 and, in response to that report, on Nov. 15, 2012, Middle States issued a warning that HACC’s accreditation may be in jeopardy because of insufficient evidence the institution is in compliance with three of the commission’s 14 standards. The standards that are in question are Standard 7 (Institutional Assessment), Standard 12 (General Education) and Standard 14 (Assessment of Student Learning).

12. What does the Middle States warning mean for HACC?
While on warning, HACC remains accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 3624 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (267-284-5000). The College must submit a monitoring report by Sept. 1, 2013, documenting that the institution has achieved and can sustain compliance. This monitoring report must provide evidence of the resolution of the items of concern to Middle States.

13. What is reported within the Middle States report?
The College analyzes and reports on its compliance with Middle States accreditation standards via completion of a self study every 10 years and a Periodic Review Report at the five-year midpoint between self studies. The College’s self study was completed in 2007 and is available on HACC’s website (http://www.hacc.edu/AboutHACC/InstitutionalEffectiveness/MiddleStates/index.cfm).

The recent Middle States action was based on the findings of the Periodic Review Report which was completed in 2012 (http://www.hacc.edu/AboutHACC/InstitutionalEffectiveness/MiddleStates/index.cfm).

This report presented:

  • Focused analysis of challenges and opportunities presented to the institution since the self study
  • Action the College has taken on the recommendations of the self study, financial status, assessment of institutional effectiveness and student learning
  • The linkage between strategic planning and budgeting

14. How long will HACC be on probation with the Middle States and how does that impact the College?
HACC is NOT on probation. The College was issued a warning (less serious than “probation”) in three of the 14 areas in the Middle States’ Characteristics of Excellence. The three areas include: Standard 7 (Institutional Effectiveness), Standard 12 (General Education Assessment) and Standard 14 (Assessment of Student Learning). Middle States also shared concerns about Standard 4 (Leadership and Governance) but did NOT issue a warning for that standard.

15. What is the impact of the warning on programs that have outside accreditation?
The College is happy to report that the warning has no impact on outside accreditation. Some accrediting bodies do require a program to report such information, but there is no negative impact on those accredited programs.

16. Should I be concerned about the outcome of our response to Middle States?
The College administration is confident that the work completed to-date and documented in the monitoring report will be commended by Middle States.

17. How can I see the specific wording of the Middle States warning action regarding HACC?
For more information on HACC’s warning, visit the Assessment section of the HACC website. Assessment & Institutional Effectiveness

18. Isn’t institutional effectiveness the domain of the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment?
What does institutional effectiveness really mean? Institutional effectiveness means that EVERY unit of the College, academic and non-academic, is effectively accomplishing its mission and goals and making continuous improvements based upon the gathering, analyzing and using of assessment results. The only way to determine this is for unit assessment to occur. The Office of Institutional Research and Assessment is a resource for data often needed to determine various factors associated with an assessment activity. The office supports our efforts toward institutional effectiveness, but institutional effectiveness is the responsibility of ALL of us.

19. What does “assessment” mean?
Across all campuses, everyone must look inside their units – whether they are departments, programs or functional areas and ask themselves:

a) What can we measure?
b) How can we measure it? What tools can we use?
c) What are the strategies to make improvements?
d) What can we continue to do to measure the effectiveness of the improvements?
e) How can we continue these steps on an ongoing basis?

20. If students take tests for each class, why doesn’t that qualify as assessment?
Assessment must have an objective element to be useful to the greater whole. While your personal test can inform your own teaching, how does it inform all of those who teach that particular class? Can we determine from your class alone if students are meeting the learning outcomes across the board?

Assessment is not meant to single anyone out. It is meant to ask a more holistic question: “Are our students getting what we say they should be getting out of X class?” The information gleaned from the assessment is meant to make adjustments to the curriculum to make sure that we are meeting the needs of our students.

21. If we have an existing financial assessment tool (e.g. ratio of assets to liabilities), how do we show or document that we’re using the assessment in an effective way?
HACC has purchased Future Perfect software, which is a predictive modeling tool for finances. The past five years of audited financial statements data have been loaded and reconciled, and various financial ratios are available for analysis and assessment of the financial health of the College.
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Improvements

22. Has the College made progress, and if so, which areas have made improvement?
Much progress has been made toward removing the warning. Many areas are actively involved with assessment measures, and those areas are being highlighted as early adopters in TK20 and/or are highlighted in our Assessment Showcase at www.hacc.edu. Included among those units are Academic Affairs, Cardiovascular Technology, Chemistry, Facilities, Human Resources, Information Technology, Nursing, Oral Communication, Student Affairs and Enrollment Management and Virtual Learning – just to name a few.

23. We’ve heard a lot about TK20. How will we use this system and how does it relate to the warning?
TK20 is a software tool that allows institutions to have a central “warehouse” for assessment planning and documentation in both academic and non-academic areas. It has the ability to generate reports to help with the collection and management of assessment activities and the associated data derived from those activities.

Essentially, TK20 links the College’s strategic plan to functional and academic unit plans and allows us to map those goals and objectives across the institution. It allows academic programs to (1) map program competencies to course specific outcomes or general education outcomes and (2) close the loop through Academic Affairs and the strategic plan. It will allow us to create rubrics and other methods of evaluation or information gathering and will help alleviate the demands of processing that data on the individual unit level.

In short, it will allow us to be more efficient with our assessment efforts while at the same time making sure that assessment is being done, appropriately documented and, most importantly, used to make needed improvements. Such a system will allow an accrediting body to very easily see the work that is being done with assessment to verify that a culture of assessment is, in fact, in place at HACC. TK20 is, however, a tool only – not a solution.
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The Monitoring Report

24. Most of the monitoring report focuses on positive outcomes. Shouldn’t the assessment report also capture negative results and identify problems and issues?
Standard 6 of the Middle States’ Characteristics of Excellence is Integrity. To that end, HACC should be completely truthful about the progress in the three warning areas – the good, the bad and the ugly. Middle States will be more receptive to an honest assessment of our efforts rather than a report that is rose-colored and not truthful. The monitoring report recently shared with you was a first draft only. The final version will, indeed, reflect the reality of our progress.
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Site Visit from Middle States

25. What is the Middle States review team expecting from me when they visit the campuses on Sept. 24 and 25? Will they be speaking to any employee randomly and what kind of questions will they ask?
The College doesn’t know at this time with whom Middle States will want to meet. However, there is no cause for concern. To help prepare, please know how to answer this question: “How does my job matter to HACC?” Additionally, you should know if your unit has a strategic plan, where it’s located, how it ties to the College’s strategic plan, and how your job ties to the College’s mission, vision and core values.

26. What specifically will the Middle States review team be looking for to determine if the warning should be lifted?
Middle States wants to see that this effort is not just “once and done.” Every member of the College must strive toward continual improvement on an ongoing basis. We must “feel it in our bones.” Assessment must be systematic, sustainable and an evident part of HACC’s culture.

27. What happens after the Middle States Commission on Higher Education visits the College on Sept. 24 and 25?
At the conclusion of the site visit, Middle States will give an exit report to HACC. We may or may not know the status of the recommendations at that time. Regardless, Middle States will not take action on those recommendations until, at the earliest, December 2013. At that time, the warning will be removed or extended, or HACC can be put on probation. Expectations of Employees

28. How do you ensure that everyone shares responsibility for assessment and it’s just not left to a few people?
The key to ownership is that everyone is vested in performance improvement. All employees need to want to do the best job that they can do and be held accountable for their efforts. These two things combined will create the culture of assessment needed to make HACC the best that it can be!

29. How will all staff gain training or understanding of assessment in their units in order to implement it effectively?
An understanding of the importance of assessment must be “owned” at the administrative level of the College and be disseminated to unit leaders to spread to those who work for that unit. To that end, a Middle States consultant was hired to “train the trainers” at the President’s Cabinet level. Cabinet members are responsible for making sure that their units understand assessment; they can implement assessment measure effectively; and that their units USE the information that is derived from the assessment. Additionally, HACC will be engaging the campus-based Centers for Innovation and Teaching Excellence (CITE) on the academic side and the Professional Development Institute on the non-academic side to ensure that appropriate professional development opportunities are available to reinforce the work that the Cabinet does regarding assessment.

30. What expectations does the College have regarding the types of assessments my unit should be conducting?
How are assessment results reported and what happens afterward? The beauty of assessment is that the type of assessment should be designed to be meaningful to the specific unit. Once an assessment has taken place in a systematic way, the results should be shared with that unit and recommendations should be made to “fix” things that could be better. BUT, it doesn’t stop there. Recommendations must turn into actions for assessment to be considered meaningful. The unit must assess if the recommendations were, indeed, effective and so on. This is how assessment becomes sustainable.

31. As an adjunct faculty member, where do I go to find the results for course and department assessments that have been conducted?
Work is currently being done to post department assessment reports on the department webpages at www.hacc.edu. Department chairs’ new responsibilities also include a proactive approach to inclusive assessment efforts in their academic areas. Additionally, unit plans for all areas of the College and assessment reports should be readily available to the College community via the website in the coming days.

32. When we will have another employee survey to assess the restructuring at the College?
We will be conducting an employment satisfaction survey this fall to establish benchmark data and will conduct another survey in fall 2014.
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Next Steps

33. What are the next steps involving HACC’s accreditation?
HACC will submit a monitoring report to Middle States by Sept. 1, 2013. This report will document steps that have been taken and are planned to ensure the institution’s full compliance with Accreditation Standards 7, 12 and 14. Following receipt of the monitoring report, a small team of peer evaluators will visit the College to verify the contents of the report. The team will then submit a report to the Commission’s Committee on Follow-up Activities on the institution’s status with regard to the Commission’s Accreditation Standards. The Committee will (1) review the monitoring report, the team report and any response by the College leadership to the team report and (2) make recommendations regarding the HACC’s accreditation status to the full Commission. (Back to top)

34. How will HACC fix these issues?
The College is – and has been – addressing these issues and already has taken a number of steps toward the development and implementation of an organized and sustainable assessment process, including direct measures as required by Middle States. The steps taken by the College also show an organized and sustainable process to assess the achievement of expected learning outcomes in all programs, including general education.

35. What is HACC doing to answer the Middle State concerns?
 As a result of the warning, HACC has already begun improving its planning and documentation of assessment of institutional effectiveness and assessment of student learning to be in compliance with Middle States’ standards. The College has completed the following steps:

  • Finished an analysis to determine gaps between current status and systems, processes and evidence needed for compliance
  • Restructured the Office of Institutional Effectiveness 
  • Engaged consultants to lead and manage the effort to remove the warning status
  • Acquired, designed and implemented an online-based assessment management system (TK20)
  • Formed a task force to revise administrative procedures The College will continue to work on these improvements now through the Sept. 1, 2013 monitoring report deadline.

36. What are we doing this budget cycle to ensure sustainability of alignment with the College’s strategic plan, unit plans and, specifically, Academic Affairs?
Currently, we are tied to our budget model for 2013-14, but that model will be under review for 2014-15. Additional emphasis is still required within the budgeting areas to close the loop of not only linking operating budgets to the College’s strategic plan, but also implementing assessments for each unit plan. Restructuring collegewide has emphasized the need to realign funds throughout the year based on evolving unit objectives, especially within the academic areas. Capital budgets have the functionality to link funding requests to strategic goals.

A greater emphasis is being placed on utilizing this information for prioritizing each request. Additional efforts are necessary to incorporate an assessment component to each funded request for evaluation purposes.

37. What steps have been taken to ensure this won’t happen again?
Many steps are in place to prevent this from happening again. Specifically, new shared governance policies will be passed soon. These policies will lay out the expectations for assessment in both academic and non-academic areas. An important part of making sure this won’t happen again is to (1) codify those expectations, (2) set and uphold specific timelines for the cycles of assessment and (3) hold people accountable for fulfilling duties related to assessment via performance evaluation. All of these things will help create a culture of assessment that is systematic and sustainable. Additionally, TK20 has been purchased to help us stay organized with our efforts.

38. Will someone from HACC be appointed to monitor our progress so that when the next accreditation time period comes, we’re prepared?
With the recent reorganization of Academic Affairs, the provost, currently Suzanne O’Hop, and the director of institutional effectiveness, Lynold McGhee, will be closely monitoring HACC’s assessment efforts. That said, assessment must be owned by ALL of us if we truly want to be an institution devoted to continuous improvement.

39. Are there areas of the College that are still a concern? If yes, what are they?
It is not so much that specific areas are a concern, but rather it is the fact that some people are not aware that they are already using assessment in their daily work or that the term “assessment” even applies to them. Assessment is not only for academic areas. Assessment is, simply put, performance evaluation and a plan to improve any areas that might not be quite where they should be. This applies to every unit of the College – which adds up to institutional effectiveness.

40. What is the likelihood of HACC losing its Middle States accreditation?
Accreditation is very important to HACC, and the College is already in the process of correcting the issues related to the warning. The loss of accreditation is unlikely.
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Impact on Students

41. What does the warning mean for current students?
The warning should have no impact on HACC students, especially since the loss of accreditation is unlikely. Most institutions that are placed on warning by Middle States typically return to compliance within six to18 months. When placing an institution on warning, its Middle States’ goal to help the institution meet the Requirements and Standards established by the institutions within the higher education community. It is not Middle States’ intent to punish institutions or their students, but it is Middle States’ obligation to ensure that the institution has the capacity to meet its goals and the expectations of the constituents it serves. Under federal regulations, once an institution is placed on warning by its accreditor, it has a maximum of two years from the date of the warning to return to compliance.

42. Will students be able to transfer to other institutions?
Yes. HACC remains accredited while on warning.

43. How will students pay for their education?
HACC remains accredited while on warning. Therefore, the warning has no impact on financial aid available to the institution.

44. Will students’ degrees be valid if HACC loses its accreditation?
HACC remains accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 3624 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (267-284-5000). The Middle States warning states that the College is currently out of compliance with one or more of the Middle States’ standards. Warnings indicate that the College has the capacity to make the appropriate improvements in a reasonable amount of time and to demonstrate these improvements in a monitoring report, which is due on Sept. 1, 2013. A detailed explanation of HACC’s accreditation status and Middle States’ actions is available online (https://www.msche.org/documents/sas/258/Statement% 20of%20Accreditation%20Status.htm).

45. What will happen to students’ degrees if HACC loses its accreditation?
HACC degrees, certificates and diplomas will remain valuable when transferring to a four-year institution or entering the workforce.

46. What does the warning mean for alumni and their degrees?
The warning should have no impact on alumni or the degrees they have earned from HACC. In the unlikely event that the College loses its accreditation, under federal regulations, any credits and degrees earned up until the last effective date of accreditation will be considered as having been earned at an accredited institution. Also, under Middle States’ standards, an institution may not base decisions on the acceptance of transfer credit exclusively on the accreditation status of a student’s previous institution.
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Keeping Informed

47. How can I receive updates from the College about where we stand in the process?
The College has been regularly communicating its progress on mitigating the warning. Look for updates via email and other College communications, including the HACC website. In addition, there will be campus forums to discuss the warning status and the College’s continued work to have the warning removed by the deadline.

48. How can I learn more about accreditation in general?
The website of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (www.chea.org) contains resources on accreditation; descriptions of how accreditation works; lists of regional, national and specialized accreditors; and information about degree mills and accreditation mills.

49. How can I learn more about federal regulations pertaining to accreditation?
Visit the website (www.ed.gov) of the U.S. Department of Education.
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