By Sophia Harris
Framingham State is in the final stages of the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) accreditation review due spring 2024.
An open forum was held as an opportunity for a collective conversation for members of FSU faculty and staff to discuss the current draft of the self-study on Jan. 24 at 1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.
According to the NECHE accreditation website, NECHE is a “voluntary, non-governmental membership association that serves as an institutional accreditor and promotes educational excellence and quality assurance to its member institutions.”
NECHE accreditation determines institutional quality, according to the NECHE website.
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.
According to the NECHE website, 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.
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 can 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.
One of the topics administrators were able to discuss at the open forum was “projections” that the executive staff made in the second draft of the self-study. Nicholas stated that the open forum did not reveal any discrepancies with the findings from the executive staff.
The committee is preparing for the accreditors to visit FSU’s campus from April 7 to April 10.
Eight representatives from different universities across New England will come to Framingham State’s campus to assess how it compares to what was recorded in the self-study, according to Nicholas.
The final report of the 100-page document follows the assessment of the internal audience’s feedback from campus constituents, a review during professional development for staff days, and a feedback forum through an online portal that was open to the entire campus community.
The first draft of the document was completed after this feedback was considered.
The second draft was completed after NECHE staff reviewed it. They identified areas the committee misinterpreted or did not address. They also paid close attention to whether the emphasis placed on the different standards was accurate, Nicholas said.
Nicholas said the feedback on the second draft of the document was “very positive.”
He said the NECHE Association said FSU’s committee “created a well-written, candid, easy-to-read, data-substantiated” document.
He added NECHE stated that FSU created “one of the best self-studies they've read in a while.”
Nicholas said, “I think the due diligence at each stage is what makes it a good self-study.”
He said that was because of “the work of the standard writing committees, the hard work that each of these committees did, the leadership of the co-chairs of each of those standard committees, and a wonderful copy editor that's been hard at work.”
Nicholas added, “It's one thing to say we have a good, well-written self-study - and that's what NECHE has told us. It's another thing to have a disciplinary expert of each standard come in and look at it and say, ‘I know how an academic program should look, and these are the areas that your academic program needs attention.’”
He said there will be areas of improvement that will be highlighted by the visiting team that were previously found by the self-evaluation, “but it'll be interesting to see if they read anything further into those things.”
Nicholas said, “I think that the purpose of this whole process is to identify and then synergize whatever we find through this process.”
He added, “We welcome their feedback because their external eyes see things differently and they cross-pollinate our ideas.”
Nicholas said the value of the visit is not only gained from the findings of the self-study but also what the team can learn from each other as professionals of their institution.
Nicholas added students will be able to meet with the visiting team without faculty and administrators being present when they come to campus.
“Encouraging students to participate openly, freely, and candidly in those conversations with the visiting team” is crucial for them to get an honest feel for the campus environment, Nicholas said.
He said the team has one more copy edit to complete before the visit starts in April.
The copy editor for the self-study is Professor Sarah Mabrouk. The goal for the final edits to be completed on the document is Feb. 3, he said.
Nicholas said at this stage, “We've done everything we could to get the community engaged in multiple ways.
“And now it will be for us to incorporate some of the feedback that NECHE gave us and do our copy edit, and then produce the document,” he said.
Nicholas added the committee will now be “shifting gears” from the narrative to the self-study.
“We need to figure out how to bring the self-study together and then plan for the visit,” he said.
He added the commitment and dedication to the accreditation initiative has been outstanding. All 50 constituents who joined at the beginning of the process still remain after nearly a year and a half.
“I think the commitment of our faculty, staff, administrators, and students to the process is stunning, especially given that the University is also doing strategic planning and strategic enrollment management,” Nicholas said.
Psychology Professor Kimberly Arditte-Hall, who co-chairs Standard 5, the Student Success Standard, with Dean of Students Meg Nowak Borrego said, “Over the next few weeks or months, the process will be about finalizing the self-study report before sending it out to the site visitors. That's a high-priority item to get the report finished. It's close, but again, we're at a stage where we're getting last rounds of feedback and edits to incorporate from stakeholders.”
History Professor Jon Huibregtse, who co-chairs the Standard 4 Committee, the Academic Program, along with Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences Susan Dargan, said he attended the open forum to “listen to other members of the community that haven't been as involved as us” to express any concerns with their standard’s draft.
Dean of STEM Margaret Carroll, who co-chairs Standard 6, with History Professor Maria Bollettino, Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship, said the purpose of the open forum was for “feedback, and because we are small committees, other eyes are going to see other things that we don't see.”
Dean of Business Patricia Thomas, who co-chairs Standards 1, 2, and 3 with Sarah Mabrouk - the Mission and Purpose, Planning and Evaluation, Organization and Governance standards - said, “It's more of just being comprehensive and ensuring that we can generalize it across the campus, and it's not just the committee's ideas in terms of the way we analyze and project all of your standards.”
Mark Powers, executive director of Student Records & Registration Services, and History Professor Stefan Papaioannou co-chair Standard 9, Integrity, Transparency, and Public Disclosure.
Papaioannou said the importance of a public forum is the feedback from all stakeholders.
He added, “Just the last couple of rounds, we didn't really get any external comments one way or the other.”
Assistant Dean of Students, Jay Hurtubise, who is a committee member of Standard 9, said, “You become involved in reviewing and looking at all of the standards and hoping for a better understanding of how things are being reported because that's what the self-study is. We're just saying, ‘This is who we are.’ It's nice to get a look in the mirror.”
[Editor’s note: For additional information, see “Framingham State’s 10-year accreditation review scheduled for 2024,” and “Accreditation committee preparing to compile report,” on The Gatepost’s website.]