By Cassandra Russo
A site team of distinguished faculty and administrators representing the New England Association of Schools and Colleges evaluated FSU on its overall educational effectiveness during a three-day visit this week.
The U.S. government mandates every university to be reaccredited every 10 years in order to receive federal funding.
The site team visit is among the final steps of the reaccreditation process.
The evaluation from the team was based on FSU’s 100-page self-study document, which identifies 11 categories in which the University was assessed.
After reading the document, the site team explored the campus and met with members of the
community – including students, faculty and staff.
The purpose of the site team visit is for the committee to see that “in fact, you do what you say you’re doing,” said Interim President Robert Martin.
On Wednesday, Dr. Sara Jayne Steen, president of Plymouth State University and site team leader, presented an oral report of the team’s Endings and deemed Framingham State a “much changed institution” since its last accreditation in 2005.
At the meeting, Steen bulleted what the committee found to be the University’s strengths. The
committee found FSU’s faculty, staff and administrators to be “attentive and responsive” to students.
“There is a culture of transparency, trust and collaboration across groups including students, faculty, staff, administration and Board of Trustees,” Steen said.
She added that FSU excels in prudent fiscal management and “outward” reach to the surrounding communities that results in opportunities such as student internships.
Referencing the name change from college to university, Steen said, “That’s what’s meaningful. That is recognition of what this institution is. ... This is a campus that is moving forward with a sense of energy.”
Along with the strengths cited, the committee gathered a list of the areas in which the school needed to improve.
Steen said the University should put a greater emphasis on assessment. “Hire people that will matter in the long-term.”
There should be an emphasis on structural underpinning, so that as enrollment increases, “professional support ... and offices that are affected by enrollment are there,” Steen said.
Lastly, the committee suggested that the University ensure there is appropriate space for new
programs so they can grow and succeed.
Senior political science major and Student Trustee Paul Manning said Tuesday in an open meeting with site-team members, “This year, event space has been a hot commodity. All these clubs want to put on events and all these faculty want to put on events, and we only have so many spaces.”
Information gathering for the self-study document began in 2011, led by Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Ellen Zimmerman and English Department Chair Elaine Beilin.
Martin said, “It has been a period of three years of intense focus and reflection. ... People in this community have put the institution first and have put the students first, and I think that is reflected in this report. I am so proud of that.”
During the oral report Wednesday, Steen reviewed the committee’s Endings on each of the 11
Standards in the self-study document.
The authors of Standard I of the self-study document on Mission and Purposes stated, “Framingham State University prepares students for a productive life, enhanced by learning and leadership that will contribute to the culturally diverse world of the twenty-first century.”
After evaluating the University, Steen said the committee found this mission statement to be
“appropriate.” Steen said the team determined FSU to be an “institution that recognizes its role to enhance the community and region it serves.”
Since 2011, the University has implemented resources for collecting and analyzing data, according two the second standard of the self-study document, Planning and Evaluation.
Steen said the committee finds the University’s planning and evaluation “solid and confined.”
In regards to Standard III, Organization and Governance, Steen said, “This, too, is strong.”
The authors of Standard III of the self-study document stated, “The Board of Trustees has overseen a time of great financial challenge and dramatic enrollment increases. Multiple major capital improvement projects have been completed or are under way.”
Steen praised the strong working relationship between the Board of Trustees and campus
administrators, faculty and students.
However, Steen said the committee believes the University has a “lean administration.”
Senior history major and SGA President Larry Liuzzo said in an open meeting Tuesday with the site team and students, “With the growing number of clubs, there’s not a growing number of support staff to go along with that. SILD does a great job helping out every single club, but, without an increasing number of support staff to support these clubs, it’s an added workload to each staff member.”
Junior psychology major and Community Service Club member Allison McGrath said, “We want to promote more service learning on campus. It is difficult to create service opportunities as a student, so having more staff would be helpful.”
According to Standard IV of the self-study document, Academic Programs, the University offers a comprehensive range of programs consisting of undergraduate and graduate degrees, concentrations, minors, certificates and post-baccalaureate programs.
In evaluating the Standard, the site team found there was a “consistent and clear flow of knowledge coming from the general education program into the majors,” Steen said.
Steen said the site team found the first-year experience at FSU provides a “clear structure of learning” that prepares students for upper-level courses.
She noted the creation of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, the Office of Institutional Research, the Office of Processes and Efficiencies and the Assessment Advisory Group is “testament to the extraordinary emphasis on equality and effectiveness of undergraduate and graduate programs.”
Standard V of the self-study document focuses on Faculty. According to the document, at Framingham State, “Classes are small, and many students experience close mentoring relationships with their professors ... and faculty-student collaboration is strongly supported.”
Steen said the site team believes the faculty is student-centered and “absolutely committed to the students and the institution.”
Junior biology major Deborah Toupouzis said Tuesday in an open meeting with site-team members on that at Accepted Students Day, a “professor had a presentation and had a few pictures of her students who graduated. She knew every student’s name and every job that student had after they graduated. Professors know their students and they care about what they are doing.”
Also at the meeting Tuesday, senior history major Carly Granville said, “Faculty and staff are so willing to help you out in any aspect, and they just want you to succeed.”
Standard VI of the self-study document concerns Students. According to the document, Framingham State “supports a comprehensive program of student development in the academic, co-curricular, and athletic realms.”
Steen said students are “very well aware” that they are the focus of the community.
Senior food and nutrition major Christopher Hajeck said at the meeting Tuesday, “Whenever someone asks me what my favorite part about Framingham State is, I believe my answer is always the student voice here. ... Pretty much everything we do at Framingham has some sort of student component to it.”
Responding to Standard VII of the self-study document, Library and Information Resources, the committee found the library to be a visible and responsive partner in the education process.
Steen said the committee found the partnership between IT and the library staff to be “strong.”
However, the committee was concerned that there is no library lab or other information literacy teaching space within the Henry Whittemore Library.
As the use of mobile technology “explodes” in the coming years, Steen said the University should acknowledge the challenge of student and academic use of wireless technology.
The authors of Standard VIII of the self-study document, Physical and Technological Resources, stated that Framingham State has 26 buildings on 52 acres of land. In the past 10 years, there has been $200 million in renovations and new construction.
According to the self-study, a multi-year capital spending plan sets priorities and schedules capital projects, ensuring that adequate finances are available.
Framingham State “is challenged by a compact footprint that has been successful in the creation of an attractive and welcoming campus,” Steen said in response to this report.
The committee said they found success in the e=orts to expand space in a creative way that serves the members of the growing student population.
In regards to Standard IX of the self-study document on Financial Resources, Steen said the University is in a “strong financial position.”
The University’s constant focus on students is “evident in the budget and financial practices.”
Decisions involving finances will be “key in the long-term success of the institution,” Steen said.
In the self-study document, the authors of Standard X on Public Disclosure stated the University has shifted toward making the website the primary source for information provided to the public.
The committee found the University’s method of disclosing public information offers prospective and enrolled students adequate information on which to base academic and Enancial decisions.
Steen said the information provided in Standard XI of the report, Integrity, proved the campus to be “characterized by openness and transparency.”
By mid-May, the site team will produce a lengthier written report expanding upon what they presented to the campus on Wednesday. The report will be a draft and the FSU NEASC committee will correct factual errors only.
The FSU NEASC committee will write a response to a final draft in June.
Both the final report and the response will go to the NEASC Commission on Institutions of Higher Education [CIHE] for review.
In the fall of 2014, Steen and incoming FSU President F. Javier Cevallos will join the NEASC CIHE committee for an “in-depth discussion” about Framingham State. Following this, the committee will make the final decision on the reaccreditation.
In an email to the campus community Thursday, Interim President Martin said, “It is hard for me to express how proud I am of Framingham State University, of the feedback we received from the visiting team, and especially of the collaborative effort that produced our self-study and what I consider an outstanding outcome.”
Steen said a highlight of her three-day visit was that in “meeting after meeting, students referred to their campus as a ‘Framily.’”