From Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, an external committee from the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) will come to the University to determine if it should be reaccredited. The University has voluntarily undergone reaccreditation once every 10 years since 1929.
“This is a voluntary examination, [which] we undergo,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Rob Rosenthal. “It’s one of the ways in which the education sector has kept the government out of deciding what schools are good and what schools are bad. It merely means that this organization looks at our work and says we’re a bona fide institution of higher learning.”
For the past two years, University students, faculty, staff, and administrators have served on different committees to provide a self-study on each of the accreditation standards. These standards include Mission and Purpose, Planning and Evaluation, University Organization and Governance, the Academic Program, Faculty, Students, Library and Other Informative Resources, Physical and Technological Resources, Financial Resources, Public Disclosure, and Integrity. The revised compilation of all these standards formed the University’s self study, which was sent to NEASC on Aug. 15. This study, which was sent out to the entire University, provides the external evaluators with an understanding of the University before they arrive in Middletown.
“The external committee comes in for a couple of days,” Rosenthal said. “They’re looking at if the self-study adequately reflects what’s going on here, and at the end of their stay, they’ll issue a preliminary report and go off [to decide on accreditation].”
Both Rosenthal and President Michael Roth were certain that the University would be reaccredited without much difficulty.
“It’s not like we’re in danger of being unaccredited,” Roth said. “We want to learn from this to see how we can do a better job for our students. So we’re preparing by being candid, and we’ll see what the visitors think and if they have good ideas about how to be more Wesleyan-ish.”
Rosenthal did mention that in recent years, other universities in NEASC had received conditional accreditations, in which a university was accredited with the expectation that it change a particular policy. Rosenthal did admit that this could happen to the University, but he remained hopeful it would receive a full accreditation.
“It’s a possibility [that we’ll receive a conditional accreditation], but I don’t think [it’s] a likelihood,” Rosenthal said. “I think the work we’ve done on our assessment will be good enough.”
During recent accreditations, NEASC has expressed particular interest in the area of student learning at universities. Administrators have specified that this involves not what professors teach, but what students absorb and retain in their academic studies. Rosenthal stated that he previously had not given the idea much thought until NEASC started pushing the question. Because of this, he said that he was more concerned about student learning at the University.
“Most schools have hardly thought about it at all, if at all,” Rosenthal said. “We were in the same boat, people had not spent much time thinking about this as something you could measure. But in the two or three years we’ve spent a lot of time on it, pushed by NEASC and reaccreditation. So I think that will be the biggest question.”
Roth also expressed an interest at looking more into what exactly students learn at the University.
“How best can we understand what people learn?” Roth said. “We know we haven’t answered it adequately but I think just having the faculty talk about it, how is it different in English and chemistry and music and sociology? It’s interesting to hear the answers.”
In an effort to address this question, Rosenthal has asked each of the academic departments to provide suggestions for how they can implement a greater emphasis on student learning into their curriculum. The departments will then work with each other and the administration to put a greater focus on student learning in the future.
Though questions about the future of student learning remain, Rosenthal was optimistic about the outcome that the preparation for accreditation and the self study will have on the University.
“I’ve been saying since we started: ‘since we put this much work into it, we might as well take it seriously and get something out of it,’” Rosenthal said.