Middle States accreditation should be completed in June


The Middle States Commission on Higher Education accreditation process, which kicked off at Pitt in fall 2020, is close to wrapping up.

Members of the evaluation team visited Pitt virtually April 4 to 6. They engaged in separate public meetings with faculty, staff and students, and conducted smaller private meetings with specific groups, such as University Senate leadership. In all, the team held nearly 30 virtual meetings with people in the Pitt community.

Team members quizzed those at the faculty and staff open meetings about how the Plan for Pitt is being incorporated in their areas; how diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are going; how complaints are handled; are there staff shortages and how are they handled; how non-tenure stream faculty are treated vs. their tenured counterparts; and how shared governance functions.

The University also had to submit a 100-page self study that outlines how it meets accreditation standards and also helps advance institutional self-understanding and self-improvement, according to the report’s executive summary.

“It’s really difficult to hit all the nuances to really highlight all of the issues,” Joe McCarthy, vice provost of undergraduate studies, said about the 100-page report. The site visit by the evaluation team is “really trying to read between the lines, trying to understand what might have had to get left on the cutting room floor.”

Stephanie Hoogendoorn, director of academic affairs in the provost’s office, said the process of compiling the report “gave an opportunity for faculty and staff and a few students to really think about operationalizing the mission.”

In all, about 150 people in the Pitt community were involved in compiling the report, which focused on four areas: Inclusive excellence in education; Embracing today’s world, local to global; Foundational strength, a commitment to sustainable excellence; and Research and innovation. McCarthy and Hoogendorn were tasked with taking the 600 pages of material submitted by the committees and boiling it down to 100 pages.

After meeting with different stakeholders at the University, the evaluation team, which was led by University of Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi, presented an exit report. McCarthy, who led the accreditation process, said the only surprise from the report was “how positive it was. I expected it to be positive but it was overwhelmingly positive.”

The process on the Middle States side has been slowed down some by the pandemic, but not on the Pitt end. McCarthy said they anticipated hearing from the evaluation team six months ago, but only had contact starting two months ago. The team also was not able to visit in person at all. They had three virtual visits over the 2.5 year process.

The evaluation team will write up a formal report that will be shared with Pitt’s administration in early May. The University has about a week to respond with either factual corrections or just a thank you for the hard work done. The chair of the evaluation team will present the findings to the Middle State Commission in early June, and McCarthy said they are hoping to have a decision on reaccreditation before the Board of Trustees meeting at the end of June.

The University of Pittsburgh was first accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education in 1921. Accreditation was last reaffirmed in 2017.

Without the accreditation, Pitt would not be eligible for Title IV federal financial aid and the vast majority of the University’s specialized accreditations would lapse as well, McCarthy said, “because the overall University accreditation is typically foundational to every one of these specialized accreditations.”

The self-study process also allowed members of the Pitt community “to really dive deep into understanding how Pitt achieves an area of specialty that they’re passionate about.”

The next reaccreditation process will be in 2030. Previously, it had been on a 10-year schedule, which required a substantial midpoint report. In the eight-year cycle, interim reports are only needed if there are specific concerns.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 724-244-4042.


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