Middle States FAQs August 2013
In November 2012 the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (Middle States) issued a warning to HACC. This warning was regarding HACC's performance on three of the Commission's 14 standards. On Sept. 24 and 25, 2013, a Middle States review team will visit the College.
Learn about the process and its high level of importance.
- About Middle States
- The Monitoring Report
- Site Visit from Middle States
- Next Steps
- Impact on Students
- Keeping Informed
About Middle States
1. What is Middle States Commission on Higher Education?
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education is a regional accrediting organization. It reviews institutions:
- To determine their compliance with U.S. Department of Education regulations.
- To examine their standards for higher education.
2. What is accreditation?
Accreditation is a form of voluntary self-regulation. The educational community provides peer review. Middle States and its evaluators use information provided by institutions, on-site interviews and research. They use this information to determine whether an institution meets Middle States' standards for accreditation.
3. How does Middle States evaluate institutions?
Middle States uses 14 standards of accreditation and ten requirements of affiliation. Download the Middle States' publication, Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education (pdf), for more information.
4. How frequently does Middle States place schools on warning or probationary status?
In an effort to align institutions with the Characteristics of Excellence, Middle States puts them on warning. This warning is due to a failure to adequately document evidence of continuous improvement. Previously, Middle States put Lebanon Valley College and Penn State University on warning. They have since lifted those warnings.
5. How do I find out if a college or university is accredited?
Visit Middle States for a list of all institutions it accredits. If the institution is not listed, Middle States does not currently accredit it.
6. How can I learn more about Middle States Commission on Higher Education?
Visit Middle States for Commission policies, publications, accreditation resources and contact information. Under "About Us," there is a link to Frequently Asked Questions.
7. What is Middle States concerned about with HACC?
Middle States issued a warning that HACC's accreditation may be in jeopardy. This is due to insufficient evidence that we are 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)
- Standard 14 (Assessment of Student Learning)
Middle States is concerned that HACC is lacking in:
- An organized and sustainable assessment process. This includes direct measures to improve institutional effectiveness. We need to provide evidence that we are using assessment information in budgeting, planning and resource allocation. We also need to show that we are using assessment information to improve programs, services and processes (Standard 7).
- An organized and sustainable process to assess expected student learning outcomes. This includes all programs and General Education. We must also provide evidence that we are using assessment information to improve teaching and learning (Standards 12 and 14).
8. What does a warning really mean?
The Commission places an institution on warning when it believes the institution:
- Is not in compliance with one or more of its Requirements of Affiliation and Accreditation Standards.
- Has the capacity to make appropriate improvements within a reasonable time period.
- Can sustain itself in the long term.
Middle States requires a:
- Follow-up report. They call it a monitoring report. This report needs to demonstrate that the institution has made appropriate improvements to meet compliance.
- Small-team visit. The team verifies institutional status and progress.
A warning does not mean an institution will lose its accreditation.
9. Has HACC received a 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. We were last reaffirmed on June 28, 2007.
11. How did the warning happen?
Middle States told HACC officials in 2007 that the warning would occur if we did not make improvements. They required HACC to submit a Periodic Review Report (PRR) in June 2012. Middle States responded to that report on Nov. 15, 2012 by issuing the warning. This was because of insufficient evidence that HACC is in compliance with three of the commission's 14 standards.
12. What does the Middle States warning mean for HACC?
While on warning, HACC remains accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Contact them at:
3624 Market Street,
Philadelphia, PA 19104, 267-284-5000.
Middle States required HACC to submit a monitoring report by Sept. 1, 2013. The report needed to:
- Document that we have achieved and can sustain compliance.
- Provide evidence that we have resolved the items of concern.
13. What is reported within the Middle States report?
HACC analyzes and reports on its compliance with Middle States accreditation standards. We do this by completing a:
- Self study every ten years.
- Periodic Review report at the five-year midpoint between self studies.
We completed the self study in 2007. View the self study.
Middle States based its most recent action on our Periodic Review Report. We completed this report in 2012. View the Periodic Review report.
This report presented:
- An analysis of challenges and opportunities presented to HACC since the self study.
- Actions HACC has taken on the recommendations of the self study, financial status, assessment of institutional effectiveness and student learning.
- The relationship between strategic planning and budgeting.
14. How long will HACC be on probation with the Middle States?
HACC is NOT on probation. Middle States issued HACC a warning. This warning is less serious than "probation." Middle States issued this warning for three of the 14 areas in its Characteristics of Excellence. The three areas are:
- Standard 7 (Institutional Effectiveness)
- Standard 12 (General Education Assessment)
- Standard 14 (Assessment of Student Learning).
Middle States also shared concerns about Standard 4 (Leadership and Governance). It did NOT issue a warning for this standard.
15. What is the impact of the warning on programs that have outside accreditation?
Some accrediting bodies require institutions to report such information. There is no negative impact on those accredited programs. The warning has no impact on outside accreditation.
16. Should I be concerned about the outcome of HACC's response to Middle States?
HACC administration is confident that Middle States will commend the work completed and documented in the monitoring report.
17. How can I see the specific wording of the Middle States warning action?
Visit Accreditation &Institutional Effectiveness for more information on HACC's warning.
18. Is institutional effectiveness the domain of the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment?
Institutional effectiveness means that:
- Every unit of HACC is effectively accomplishing its mission and goals. This includes academic and non-academic units.
- We are making continuous improvements based on assessment results.
The only way to determine institutional effectiveness is through unit assessments. The Office of Institutional Research and Assessment is a resource for that data. This data helps determine various factors associated with an assessment activity.
The office supports our efforts toward institutional effectiveness. However, institutional effectiveness is the responsibility of ALL of us.
19. What does "assessment" mean?
Assessment means everyone reviews their units. Units include departments, programs and functional areas. They ask the following questions:
- What can we measure?
- How can we measure it? What tools can we use?
- What are the strategies to make improvements?
- What can we continue to do in order to measure how effective improvements are?
- How can we continue these steps on an ongoing basis?
20. If students take tests for each class, why does that not qualify as assessment?
Assessment must have an objective element to be useful to the greater whole. Personal tests can inform your own teaching, but it does not inform all of those who teach that particular class. We may not be able to determine if your students are meeting the learning outcomes across the board.
Assessment is not meant to single anyone out. It asks a more holistic question: "Are our students getting what we say they should be getting out of class?"
We use assessment information to make adjustments to the curriculum. These adjustments ensure we are meeting our students' needs.
21. If we have an existing financial assessment tool (e.g. ratio of assets to liabilities), how do we show that we are using the assessment in an effective way?
HACC has purchased Future Perfect software. This is a predictive modeling tool for finances. We have loaded and reconciled the past five years of audited financial statements data. Various financial ratios are available for analysis and assessment of HACC's financial health.
22. Has HACC made progress? Which areas have they improved?
We have made significant progress toward removing the warning. Many HACC units are actively involved with assessment measures. We highlight these units as early adopters in TK20 and/or in our Assessment Showcase.
These units include:
- Academic Affairs
- Cardiovascular Technology
- Human Resources
- Information Technology
- Oral Communication
- Student Affairs and Enrollment Management
- Virtual Learning
23. How will HACC use TK20 for the warning?
TK20 is a software tool. It is not a solution. TK20:
- Provides a central "warehouse" for assessment planning and documentation. This is for both academic and non-academic areas.
- Generates reports. These reports help us collect and manage data derived from those activities.
- Links HACC's strategic plan to functional and academic unit plans.
- Allows us to map strategic goals and objectives across the institution.
- Allows academic programs to map program competencies to course-specific outcomes or general-education outcomes.
- Closes the loop through Academic Affairs and the strategic plan.
- Allows us to create rubrics and other methods of evaluation.
- Will help alleviate the demands of processing data on the individual unit level.
- Allows us to be more efficient with our assessment efforts.
- Makes sure we are completing the assessment and documenting it correctly.
- Helps us make needed improvements.
- Allows an accrediting body to easily see the work we are doing with assessment. This will verify we have a culture of assessment in place at HACC.
24. Most of the monitoring report focuses on positive outcomes. Should the assessment report capture negative results and identify problems and issues?
Standard 6 of the Middle States' Characteristics of Excellence is Integrity. This means HACC should be completely open about the progress in the three warning areas.
Middle States will be more receptive to an honest assessment of our efforts rather than a report that has a positive slant. The monitoring report recently published was a first draft. The final version will better reflect our progress.
Site visit from Middle States
25. What was the Middle States review team expecting when they visited the campuses on Sept. 24 and 25?What kinds of questions did they ask?
The College did not know who the Middle States wanted to meet with. In the future, prepare to answer this question: "How does my job matter to HACC?" You should also know:
- if your unit has a strategic plan
- where your strategic plan is located
- how your unit's strategic plan ties to the College's strategic plan
- how your job ties to the College's mission, vision and core values
26. What did the Middle States review team use to determine if the warning should be lifted?
Middle States wanted to see that our efforts are ongoing. Every HACC member must strive toward continual improvement. Assessment must be systematic, sustainable and an evident part of HACC's culture.
27. What happened after the Middle States Commission on Higher Education visited the College on Sept. 24 and 25?
At the conclusion of the site visit, Middle States gave an exit report to HACC. Middle States will not take action on those recommendations until December 2013 at the earliest. At that time, they will remove or extend the warning, or put HACC on probation.
28. How do you ensure that everyone shares responsibility for assessment?
Everyone must focus on performance improvement. This is the key to ownership.
All employees must:
- Want to do the best job they can do.
- Be held accountable for their efforts.
This 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?
HACC's administration must understand the importance of assessment. We must disseminate this importance to unit leaders. These leaders need to spread the message to those who work for the unit.
We hired a Middle States consultant. The consultant "trains the trainers" at the President's Cabinet level.
Cabinet members are responsible for:
- Making sure their units understand the assessment
- Implementing the assessment measures effectively
- Ensuring their units use the information derived from the assessment
HACC will be engaging the campus-based Centers for Innovation and Teaching Excellence (CITE) on the academic side. We will also be engaging the Professional Development Institute on the non-academic side. We will ensure appropriate professional development opportunities are available. These opportunities must reinforce the work the Cabinet does regarding assessment.
30. What expectations does HACC have regarding the types of assessments my unit should be conducting?
We can tailor assessment to each unit. Once an assessment has occurred in a systematic way, we need to share the results with that unit. We also need to provide recommendations on how to make improvements.
Units must turn these recommendations into actions. The unit must assess if the recommendations were effective. 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?
We post assessment reports on department webpages. Department chairs are now responsible for making assessment efforts in their academic areas. We will publish unit plans for all areas of HACC and assessment reports online.
32. When will we have another employee survey to assess the restructuring at the College?
We will be conducting an employment satisfaction survey Fall 2014.
33. What are the next steps involving HACC's accreditation?
HACC submitted a monitoring report to Middle States in September 2013. The report will document steps that we have taken. It will also outline planned steps to ensure HACC's full compliance with Accreditation Standards 7, 12 and 14.
Middle States sent a small team of peer evaluators to HACC after receiving our monitoring report. These evaluators verified the contents of the report.
The team submitted a report to the Commission's Committee on Follow-up Activities. This report was about our status with the Commission's Accreditation Standards.
The Committee reviewed the monitoring report, the team report and our response to the team report. They recommended Middle States remove the warning because HACC is now in compliance with Standard 12 (General Education). They also reaffirmed accreditation.
34. How is HACC fixing these issues?
HACC is addressing these issues. We have taken steps toward the development and implementation of an organized and sustainable assessment process. This includes direct measures Middle States requires.
The steps also show an organized and sustainable process to assess expected learning outcomes achievements. This includes all programs and general education.
35. What is HACC doing to answer the Middle State concerns?
HACC is improving its planning and documentation of institutional effectiveness assessment and student learning. We are making changes to ensure we are in compliance with Middle States' standards. HACC 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.
36. What are we doing during this budget cycle to ensure sustainability of alignment with the College's strategic plan, unit plans and Academic Affairs?
We are reviewing our budget model for 2014-15. We are focusing on linking operating budgets to HACC's strategic plan. We are also implementing assessments for each unit plan.
We have determined funds should be realigned throughout the year. We should realign them based on evolving unit objectives, especially within the academic areas. Capital budgets have the functionality to link funding requests to strategic goals.
We are placing a greater emphasis 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 has HACC taken to ensure this will not happen again?
Many steps are in place to prevent this from happening again. We passed new shared governance policies. These policies lay out the expectations for assessment in both academic and non-academic areas.
To make sure this will not happen again, we:
- Codify those expectations.
- Set and uphold specific timelines for the cycles of assessment.
- Hold people accountable for fulfilling duties related to assessment. We do this via performance evaluation.
All of these steps create a culture of assessment that is systematic and sustainable. We purchased TK20 to help us stay organized with our efforts.
38. Will someone from HACC be appointed to monitor our progress to make sure we stay prepared?
The provost, currently Suzanne O'Hop, and the director of institutional effectiveness, Lynold McGhee, will be closely monitoring HACC's assessment efforts. It is also important that all of HACC is invested in assessment.
39. Are there areas of HACC that are still a concern?
Some individuals are not aware they are already using assessment in their daily work. They may not be aware the term "assessment" applies to them.
Assessment is not just for academic areas. Assessment is performance evaluation and a plan to improve. This applies to every unit in HACC. It adds up to institutional effectiveness.
40. What is the likelihood of HACC losing its Middle States accreditation?
Accreditation is very important to HACC. HACC is in the process of correcting the issues related to the warning. The loss of accreditation is unlikely.
41. What does the warning mean for current students?
The warning should have no impact on HACC students. Most institutions that are placed on warning return to compliance within six to 18 months.
It is 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. It is Middle States' obligation to ensure the institution has the capacity to meet its goals and the expectations of the constituents it serves.
Under federal regulations, an institution 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. 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. Contact them at:
3624 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
The Middle States warning states that HACC is currently out of compliance with one or more of the Middle States' standards. Warnings indicate that HACC has the capacity to make the appropriate improvements in a reasonable amount of time. It also indicates HACC can demonstrate these improvements in a monitoring report.
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 did 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 HACC loses its accreditation, any credits and degrees earned up until the last effective date of accreditation will be considered earned at an accredited institution.
An institution may not base decisions on the acceptance of transfer credit exclusively on the accreditation status of a student's previous institution.
47. How can I receive updates from HACC about where we stand in the process?
HACC has been regularly communicating its progress on mitigating the warning. Look for updates via email and other College communications. This includes the HACC website.
There will be campus forums to discuss the warning status and HACC's continued work to have the warning removed.
48. How can I learn more about accreditation in general?
Visit the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. It contains resources on accreditation and descriptions of how accreditation works. It also includes lists of regional, national and specialized accreditors. You will also find information about degree mills and accreditation mills.
49. How can I learn more about federal regulations pertaining to accreditation?
Visit the U.S. Department of Education.