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September 30, 2010

Groups start work on Pitt’s reaccreditation

What takes 60 people from across the University more than two years to complete? It’s the University’s decennial reaccreditation process, which runs from March 2010, when Pitt submitted a preliminary proposal launching the reaccreditation, to spring 2012, when the University’s final report is due.

Pitt has convened a steering committee and three working groups, which collectively include administrators, faculty, staff and students from the five campuses, to meet the requirements of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the accrediting arm of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. The Middle States region comprises Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and several international locations.

The reaccreditation process culminates in a site visit by a Middle States evaluation team, expected in spring 2012, followed by a decision by Middle States about Pitt’s accreditation status, expected in summer or fall 2012. Pitt has been accredited by the Middle States Commission since 1921.

According to University Registrar Samuel Conte, who with Provost Patricia Beeson co-chairs the steering committee, Middle States provides general guidelines for designing the self-study that forms the basis of the commission’s review, as well as 14 institutional and educational standards that must be documented. Middle States also allows institutions to select from three models in preparing the self-study.

“Those models are ‘comprehensive,’ ‘selected topics’ and ‘collaborative,’” Conte explained. “We chose the selected topics model, partly because we’re such a big university and it would be impossible to cover every program, and partly to reflect on the culture of assessment that we’ve had in place for several years. Because assessment is such a big part of this process — for all the regional accreditors around the country — and because we have and have had for a number of years assessment procedures that have grown and improved, I think it definitely was the way for us to go.”

(For related stories on Pitt’s student assessment strategies, see Feb. 21, 2008, University Times.)

Pitt’s resulting selected topic is “Using a University-wide Culture of Assessment for Continuous Improvement,” which includes major components on assessment of the student experience, assessment of institutional effectiveness and demonstration of compliance with Middle States standards, Conte said. Each of the three working groups is responsible for preparing a report on one of the components. The steering committee then will combine the reports and prepare the overall self-study document.

Pitt’s self-study design was approved by the commission following a preliminary site visit last week by Pitt’s Middle States liaison, Mary Ellen Petrisko, who met with the chancellor, Board of Trustees representatives,  faculty, staff and student representatives.

The Provost’s office developed a timeline to keep the University on track over the two-plus year process, Conte said. “We’ve already completed several key steps,” including forming the working groups in July and charging them earlier this month, he said. The steering committee has been meeting monthly since June, and beginning in October will get a monthly progress update from the working group chairs, who also sit on the steering committee. The next major step, Conte said, is in December when the steering committee will review the working groups’ self-study drafts.

In March 2011, the Middle States Commission will select a chair and an evaluation team, subject to Pitt’s approval.

“Next April, the working groups will submit their final reports, which the steering committee will go over. Then in the summer a draft of the self-study will be sent to the steering committee and the evaluation team chair for a review. At the end of August next year, there will be the approval of the whole committee and working groups and the Middle States visiting evaluation team chair,” Conte said.

In fall 2011, the University community will be invited to comment on the self-study before it is finalized for submission, he noted. “I’m not sure at this point what the mechanism for that will be, whether it will be a public forum for example, but definitely the report will be out there available through the University portal,” Conte said.

He said Pitt’s selected topics self-study model is designed to address the commission’s 14 required standards, which can be covered “substantially” or “partially” under Middle States guidelines. “The self-study directly will address standard 7, institutional assessment, and standard 14, assessment of student learning,” Conte said.

Pitt’s report also partially will address standard 2, planning, resource allocation and institutional renewal; standard 8, student admissions and financial aid; standard 9, student support services; standard 11, educational offerings, and standard 12, general education, he added.

For the remaining standards (1: mission and goals; 3: institutional resources; 4: leadership and governance; 5: administration; 6: integrity; 10: faculty support, and 13: related educational activities) Pitt must show compliance through existing documentation and provide a “roadmap” for evaluators to connect the dots. Middle States has a standardized format for document roadmaps and other templates needed for report submission, with the goal that “the standards be sufficiently broad to provide an adequate ‘window’ on the whole institution,” the commission’s guidelines state.

“What they’re looking for primarily are measures of assessment,” Conte said. “For example, one working group will report on how we’ve improved things for students, how we’re attracting more and better students all the time. But it’s not only how you perform, because the assessment process goes on to ask: Can you tell that what you said you were going to do, you did do? And how do you measure that? With students, it’s measuring learning outcomes. It’s not just saying we’re going to teach history, it’s how effectively did we do that, based on student performance. For some of the professional schools, for example, a measure might be board certification scores.”

Other measures could include documentation of mid-term progress evaluations, end-of-college-career tests that show how much a student has retained in the major field at graduation, the placement rates of PhD graduates or survey information on the extent to which alumni believe their Pitt education helped in their careers.

Related assessment issues include: how the curriculum supports learning outcomes; how adequate institutional efforts are to encourage faculty efforts to assess student learning and to improve their teaching; whether assessment results have led to appropriate institutional decisions about teaching, planning, budgeting, etc.; how effectively the institution ensures that credit granted for experiential learning is warranted.

Conte said, “We’re so early into this process that I’m hesitant to speculate about what the working groups will come up with as they write their reports. It’s a very diverse group of committed individuals, many of whom have experience with this type of process. So far, for the most part, it’s a very enthusiastic group, though we still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do.”

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 43 Issue 3

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