Middle States reaffirms Penn State’s accreditation

July 15, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) on June 25 reaffirmed Penn State’s accreditation after an extensive evaluation process during the 2014-15 academic year. MSCHE also recognized the University for 22 significant achievements, several institutional strengths and aspects worthy of commendation among its 14 standards.

“It is gratifying to see this validation from a third-party, confirming the path we are on and making recommendations for even further improvement,” said Blannie Bowen, vice provost for academic affairs and the University’s accreditation liaison officer, who led a steering committee designated to provide MSCHE evaluators with various types of information contained in the University’s self-study report. “Fulfilling our mission of teaching, research and service, as well as defining characteristics of excellence that allow us to exceed expectations, is a process certainly worthy of undertaking.”

Accreditation is key to any university’s operation, assuring students of a quality education and affirming that an institution has gone through a rigorous evaluation process and operates at the highest standards of quality and educational commitment. The MSCHE is recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) as the accrediting body in several states and territories of the U.S.

As part of the accreditation process, Penn State must now submit a monitoring report, due April 1, 2017, documenting implementation of five standards-based areas focused on leadership, enrollment management, general education and student knowledge.

The 31-page report from the peer evaluation team, chaired by University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan, lists eight recommendations for improvement and 19 suggestions.

The evaluation team’s report recognizes the University’s institutional changes and compliance improvements. Overall, as the report notes, the team “came away from its visit with a very positive sense (of) Penn State’s academic quality, commitment to excellence in all its endeavors, and its resolve to meet the MSCHE standards for affiliation and accreditation in full.”

The report points out a “truly distinguished faculty,” the University’s high level of research activity, and “impressive” breadth and quality of Penn State’s doctoral programs, “evidenced in the most recent rankings of the National Research Council.” The team’s assessment also notes the University-wide commitment to ensure access to high-quality programs and services, especially the “notable innovative services” of University Libraries, research support, Student Affairs programs and the Office of Global Programs.

In addition to Kirwan, Penn State’s peer evaluation team of higher education administrators and faculty included four representatives from State University of New York system campuses and its medical center, two from the City University of New York, and one each from the College of William and Mary, Cornell University, The George Washington University, Rutgers University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Summary of Findings

The report lists the following among the peer evaluators’ evidence and findings:

  •  “The team applauds the establishment of the Academic Program and Administrative Services Review Core Council to control costs and generate efficiencies … Since 1992-93, Penn State has realized recurring cost savings, budget reductions and internal reallocations over $305 million.
  •  “President Barron is attentive to fiscal variables that impede student persistence to degree and on time graduation. His commitment to reducing student debt is laudable and evidenced by the development of a no cost First Summer enrollment program.”
  •  “With more than 4,000 educational programs attended by more than 205,000 people, Penn State should be proud of its offerings. Designed to meet myriad needs of students on multiple campuses, the co-curricular offerings strengthen the student experience and enhance students’ persistence to the degree. The students with whom the team met were very positive about the programs in which they participated.”
  •  “The World Campus places Penn State in the top tier of virtual institutions. Procedures, policies and innovations from this unit have impacted and renewed schools and programs across the university.”
  •  “Penn State’s commitment to academic excellence and student success, which is evident across the institution. The collaborative efforts for the achievement and assessment of curricular and co-curricular goals for student experience and development are exemplary.”

Among the team’s recommendations, the report emphasizes Middle States’ Standard 14, Assessment of Student Learning. Specifically, the team urges Penn State to “articulate statements and means of assessment for expected student learning outcomes for all programs and at all levels, undergraduate and graduate, certificate and non-credit programs.”

In addition, the report notes that while “enrollment and completion rate of under-represented minorities is a high priority at Penn State,” African American student enrollment, especially at the University Park campus, is “markedly below national averages” and that population’s graduation rate is approximately 16 percentage points lower than the general student body. The peer evaluators recommend that the University “place a high priority on the development of new strategies and initiatives to expand and enhance the enrollment and graduation of diverse students, including most especially African American students.”

The team also recommended that the University:

  •  “provide evidence that the evaluation processes for the Board, the President and the Senior Officers have been completed and are in place;”
  •  “institute an administrative evaluation process/policy that would apply to the non-academic departments and administrators;” and
  •  ensure and provide evidence of learning assessments in certificate programs.

Review process

A thorough review process comprised the peer evaluation team’s activities. In January-February 2015, members of the evaluation team visited Dickinson Law in Carlisle, Penn State Hershey Medical Center, six Commonwealth Campuses and the International Studies Institute study-abroad program in Florence, Italy. Evaluators visited the University Park campus in November 2014 and again in March 2015, and met with several levels of academic and administrative leadership as well as the University Council on Engaged Scholarship, General Education Task Force, the Administrative Council for Undergraduate Education Assessment Coordinating Committee and with undergraduate and graduate student representatives.

While at University Park, the MSCHE evaluation team also requested to have added to their schedule meetings with members of the University Staff Advisory Council, the chief ethics and compliance officer and his council, budget officers, the vice president for Student Affairs, institutional data personnel, Office of Physical Plant representatives and University representatives who oversee student learning outcomes assessment and financial aid.

University response

The team submitted its report to the University on April 23, and on May 7, President Eric Barron submitted the University’s response to MSCHE, accepting the recommendations and noting no objections.

“Both the recommendations and suggestions of our respected peers carry great weight in our institutional planning and decision-making processes,” Barron's response states. “We gratefully acknowledge the many significant accomplishments noted by the evaluation team that reflect the hard work of our faculty, staff, administrators and trustees, as well as the excellence of our students and the commitment of our alumni and friends.”

Monitoring Report

The monitoring report from Penn State to the MSCHE will document the:

  •  further implementation of the periodic assessment of the effectiveness of institutional leadership and governance;
  •  further implementation of the periodic assessment of the effectiveness of administrative structures and services;
  •  review of the enrollment management plan for recruitment, retention, marketing and advertising, particularly with respect to the enrollment of underrepresented students, consistent with the institution’s priorities and values;
  •  further implementation of the assessment of general education outcomes within the institution’s overall plan for assessing student learning, and evidence that such assessment results are used for curricular improvement; and
  •  further evidence of articulated student knowledge, skills and competency levels within existing certificate programs.

About Middle States

Middle States accreditation is among the most highly regarded of third-party assessments for higher education institutions. Penn State was first accredited by Middle States in 1921 and most recently reaffirmed on June 25, 2015. Part of the organization’s 10-year cycle of review, Penn State’s 2014-15 self-study evaluation report precedes its next Periodic Review Report, which is due to the Commission in 2020. A detailed historical timeline is available at http://middlestates.psu.edu/pennstatetimeline/.

For more information about Penn State’s Middle States reaccreditation and self-study, visit http://middlestates.psu.edu.

Last Updated September 04, 2020