In July 2023, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) launched its newly revised accreditation standards which explicitly call for more concrete evidence of periodic planning, assessment and use of data for improvement. The updates reflect the Commission’s commitment to data-informed decision making—calling for its member institutions to collect, reflect and use data including disaggregated data to ensure they are meeting the needs of their students as outlined in their mission statement.
Did the MSCHE Accreditation Standards Change?
The MSCHE accreditation standards haven’t changed but rather the evidence requirements to meet them have. In talking with colleagues in the Middle States region, that much is clear. So if you are already collecting and using data to make changes and documenting this well, you can continue to move along business as usual. “If you are already doing this, it won't be such an arduous lift to write your self study with a team that is already engaged because they know and use the evidence in their own improvement processes,” said one colleague from a CUNY school. If you have gaps in your process around evidence collection and documentation, or aren’t actively engaging in data-driven decision making between accreditation cycles, take this opportunity to reimagine how you conduct assessment holistically at your institution.
Why Did the MSCHE Accreditation Standards Change?
The MSCHE accreditation standards changed for a simple reason—reviewers are out there meeting with institutional stakeholders during their regular cycle of site visits and have seen some exemplary evidence to support self studies. The evidence examples they are seeing are included in the Evidence Expectations by Standard Guidelines published in July as a companion document to the Standards for Accreditation and Requirements of Affiliation (Fourteenth Edition).
According to the guidelines, “Those who entered Self-Study Institute (SSI) on or after fall 2023 will utilize the Fourteenth Edition. Those institutions will host evaluation visits in 2025-2026 and thereafter. Institutions with follow-up actions dated after June 20, 2023, will also use the Fourteenth Edition of the standards for reporting. Institutions should contact their Vice President Liaisons with questions.” So although institutions who are preparing their self study documentation now are not required to adhere to these guidelines, as my colleagues shared, if you are already: collecting evidence on items such as mission reflection and revision, identifying how stakeholders are accessing data and tracking the use of data across the institution, long-range planning, resource allocation linked to student achievement and more, nothing will change for you in subsequent years.
Your Evidence Is Much More Than a Checklist
Beware, however, of just using the evidence inventory as a checklist. Instead, build an inventory that authentically reflects how your institution is using data to improve, with concrete, unique examples of making change. As I shared at the recent Louisiana Association for Institutional Research this summer:
You brought your team together.
You’ve defined Academic Quality.
You decided what data would be meaningful for informed decision making.
You collected, shared and used the data throughout the year.
You’ve planned with the data.
You have the evidence.
The Home Stretch isn’t so difficult!
Reimagine Your Assessment Process and Meet Middle States Standards
The changes to the self study design for Middle States is one of a shift from assurance to improvement and documentation to support your improvement across the institution. In addition, reviewers are looking for you to demonstrate that you're thinking about your improvement beyond just the self study period. As accreditation standards for higher education continue to evolve across the different regions, we’ll likely see more changes like these in the future.
As Dr. Christopher Davis, Vice President of Academic Services and Quality at the University of Maryland Global Campus shares, “While quality assurance provides a broad basis for an institution to demonstrate it meets the standards of accreditation, quality improvement relies on the unique history and qualities of an institution, and how the institution uses data to enable reflection and planning to better serve students and other stakeholders.”
If you want to talk about how HelioCampus can support your use of data beyond accreditation, please reach out to us for more information. To support you in your data collection and use, we have created a MSCHE Crosswalk that highlights the evidence needed to support your self study linked to the variety of products and services we offer here at HelioCampus.