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NECHE Committee announces preliminary findings

By Sophia Harris

Editor-in-Chief


The New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) committee communicated their preliminary findings to the Framingham State community on April 10.


Alexander Enyedi, president of SUNY Plattsburgh and chair of Framingham State’s NECHE visiting team, presented the findings.


The committee was made up of eight evaluators from various New England Universities. 


The evaluators included Yvonne Kirby, associate vice president, planning & institutional effectiveness for Central Connecticut State University for Standard 2; Mary S. Alexander, former provost and vice president for academic affairs at Western Connecticut State University for Standard 3; Jeffrey St. John, vice chancellor for academic and student affairs at the University of Maine for Standard 4; Jules Tetreault, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students for Southern Connecticut State University for Standard 5; Barbara Prudhomme White, a professor and NECHE liaison from the University of New Hampshire for Standard 6; Keva Wright Berry, director of finance for academic affairs at University of Southern Maine for Standard 7; and Kimberly A. Sorrentino, director of assessment, accountability, and accreditation at the University of Connecticut for Standard 8 and Standard 9.


NECHE decides the effectiveness of an institution as a whole using nine standards for accreditation, according to the NECHE accreditation handbook.


The standards are “aspirational expectations” that must be at least “minimally” met, according to the handbook.


These standards include missions and purposes; planning and evaluation; organization and governance; academic programs; students; teaching, learning, and scholarship; institutional resources; educational effectiveness; and integrity, transparency, and public disclosure, according to the NECHE website.


These standards outline that a university has a “clearly defined purpose that is appropriate to a higher-learning institution, has assembled and organized those resources to achieve its purpose, is achieving its purpose, and has the ability to achieve its purpose,” according to the handbook.


The accreditation initiative for Framingham State is led by Mark Nicholas, assistant vice president for assessment, accreditation, and strategic planning, and co-chaired by English Professor Alexander Hartwiger. 


The visiting team was on Framingham State’s campus from April 7 to the 10th. 


At the meeting Enyedi said, “This is the final official session of the Framingham State University comprehensive evaluation visit.”


He said, “The exit report is simply a time for our team to share its general findings with the campus, and it's not a time for questions or answers.”


Enyedi added, “The team's formal report will be provided to the institution in approximately six weeks following this visit, and you'll have the opportunity to review it for any factual errors.”


He said, “In nine weeks following this on-campus visit, FSU will receive the final team report.” 


Framingham State will have an opportunity at that time to provide a formal written response to the report, and it will also be shared with the Commission of Higher Education.


In the next semester following this NECHE visit, President Nancy Niemi and Enyedi will meet for approximately 75 minutes with the commission. 


Enyedi said they will discuss the self-study, the team's findings, the institution's response, and any relevant subsequent events that have impacted the institution.


Following this meeting, Enyedi said, “The commission then deliberates and takes action on the institution's accreditation status and sets any additional reporting needed on issues related to the nine standards. A notification letter that summarizes the commission's decision will ultimately be sent to FSU.”


In an interview with The Gatepost Niemi said, “What they said was in line with a lot of the assessment that all of us have done of our institution.”


She added, “The process is almost as important as the end result.”


Standard 1 - Mission and Purpose


Enyedi said FSU meets the standard for mission purposes.


He said, “The team appreciates and commends the anti-racism framework and the numerous initiatives that are underway on campus to achieve this laudable goal.”


Enyedi added the team also “commends the faculty and staff for their commitment to the University and in particular, their support for student success.”


He said, “At yesterday's open forum sessions, the team heard repeatedly you describe FSU students, that they are earnest, that they are real, talented, resilient, passionate, and extraordinary. Students who all benefit from your passion, your expertise, and your investment in each of them to ensure they have a bright future.”


Standard 2 - Planning and Evaluation


Enyedi said FSU’s strength is that it has a “strong history of creating strategic plans that include fiscal planning and resource allocation, as well as incorporating input from a variety of constituents that go well beyond the administration and the Board of Trustees.”


He added, “These various strategic plans provide a strong narrative describing the current state of Framingham State and clearly make an argument for why the institution needs to advance in specific areas.”


Enyedi said the concern or opportunity recognized for this standard is FSU “would benefit from strategic plans that include well-defined and measurable metrics, as well as clarity on what success looks like. Developing baseline data and utilizing benchmark information from peer or aspirational institutions will inform the creation and attainment of realistic, quantifiable goals.”


He added that progress toward these goals should be “tracked and communicated to the University community” regularly.


Standard 3 - Organization and Governance


The strength the team observed is FSU has a “strong tradition of shared governance, which is evident in its contracts, its practices, and the collegiality among the faculty, staff, and administration,” Enyedi said.


He said, “The collective bargaining agreements, minutes from committee meetings, and the Department of Higher Education’s guidance on the actions of the Board of Trustees make it abundantly clear that shared governance is a core ethic of the University and certainly in public higher education in Massachusetts.”


Enyedi said, “Conversations with students, faculty and staff and administrative leadership confirmed that Framingham not only fosters shared governance, but also routinely reflects upon their processes, seeking opportunities for improvement and implementing changes when warranted.”


He said, “There is a pervasive sense of collegiality such that even when concerns about the process were expressed, there were also suggested pathways to finding solutions at Framingham State.”


He added, “There is a strong commitment to serving students from all backgrounds, and faculty and staff expressed a deep admiration for the talent and grit of those who are serving today.”



Standard 4 - the Academic Program


Enyedi said the observed strength by the team is, “The portfolio of the undergraduate and graduate programs has been consistent with the institution's mission and reflects the ample faculty engagement in curriculum development and program implementation.”


He added, “There is broad confidence among the faculty about their role and voice in the area of governance.”


He said the concern or opportunity that was observed by the team “is they feel the programs that do not possess a capstone experience at this time may not provide a well-defined context in which to assess students' mastery of program learning outcomes.”


Enyedi said, “Access to a capstone or its equivalent is recommended to ensure that a sizable minority of FSU students, who do not currently take a capstone, engage in a culminating experience in which their command of program outcomes is evaluated.”


Standard 5 - Students 


Enyedi said the strength that was observed was, “FSU is to be commended on the deployment of cross-functional work groups to develop a new strategic enrollment management plan.”


Enyedi added, “This plan and input from all stakeholders in its development.”


The concern and opportunity that was noticed by the team is that “a deeper understanding of the retention initiative, targeted student recruitment groups and success metrics associated with the plan will need to be further articulated.”


Enyedi added, “It was evident that the Student Affairs and Student Success staff have a high level of commitment and passion for holistic student success for the undergraduate students.”


“The student assistant team is a perfect example of an integrated approach to supporting the whole student in a collaborative endeavor. As the institution looks to the future, there will need to be continued focus on the intentional integration of services and support for all students. That includes your graduate students, international students, and your online learners,” Enyedi said.


Standard 6 - Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship


Enyedi said the strength the team observed is “the faculty and academic staff at FSU are markedly dedicated to student success. Their enthusiasm and attention to the education and well-being of their students is palpable. And it's observed in the casual interactions among faculty and students within the common areas of the McCarthy Center and in interviews in which both students and faculty were present, and how they speak about each other in forums that were separate from the faculty, staff, and student groups.”


Enyedi said, “There is an observed mutual respect and meaningful relationship among the students and the faculty academic staff matching the sentiments the team heard and interviews with a wide array of administrators, faculty, staff, and students. With good reason, the collaboration and learning across the institution is a point of pride for Framingham State University.”


The concern and opportunity the team observed is that “there are inconsistencies in the faculty and academic staff policies identified by the Division of Continuing Graduate Education,” Enyedi said. 



Standard 7 - Institutional Resources


Enyedi said Framingham's strength is the “ transparency in the budget process that is fully welcomed by the campus community.”


The concern and opportunity that was found by the team was “the apparent reliance on continual or continued increases in the state appropriation and that these may be overstated,” he said.


Enyedi added, “It will be imperative that the university closely monitor projected enrollment goals to fully stabilize its budget and reduce the utilization of funds reserves for balancing future budgets.”


Standard 8 - Educational Effectiveness 


Enyedi said the strength of this standard observed by the team is FSU’s “general education assessment work, including FSU and value of critical thinking assessment projects, and the redesign of the general education program to explicitly link the general education program learning objectives to the general education curriculum.”

 

He said the concern or the area for improvement the team found was that “all academic degree programs, including international graduate programs, should be included on the program review and assessment cycles and for programs to clearly document the changes that have occurred because of the assessment process.”


Standard 9 - Integrity, Transparency, and Public Disclosure


The strength that was observed by the team is “FSU’s internal audit of the website, which led to the ongoing website redesign project and public disclosure of the institutional and programmatic assessment,” Enyedi said.


He said an area for improvement is for the FSU website “to include information on loan default and repayment rates, licensure, exam pass rates, instructional and international locations, and the programs or courses that are not available in a given year.”

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