UC Clears Critical Hurdle for Accreditation


Source: middlestates.org

Kaitlyn Tambasco, Special Assignments Reporter

Utica College is one of the many institutions in the Northeast that has received accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

After the visiting team came to Utica College to evaluate the institution, the school had to put together a self-study that included all of the different standards that had to be passed.

Some of the standards were missions and goals, ethics and integrity, design and delivery of the learning experience, support of the student experience, educational effectiveness assessment, planning, resources, and institutional improvement, governance, leadership and administration.

Associate Professor of Education and Self-Study Steering Committee Chair Laurence Zoeckler said MSCHE and maintaining accreditation is significant for academic reputation, transferring credits to other institutions and financial aid.

The commission requires a review called a self-study that’s done every 10 years and a visit by a team of peers from other colleges to evaluate it.

“It’s a period where professors and administrators from similar colleges come to examine a college’s worthiness for accreditation,” Zoeckler said. “They do interviews, examine the self-study that’s been done and look at our academics, finances and institutional policies and procedures.”

Zoeckler explained that if a college does not pass the accreditation, then it is given a period of time to regroup. SUNY schools must also go through the same accreditation done by MSCHE.

If a college is not accredited, then the credits a student receives at that college will not usually be accepted by another college. Utica College had a visiting team from MSCHE on campus in early April, and it was the opinion of the team that the college meets “all the requirements of affiliation and Middle States’ Standards” for continued accreditation.

Interim Dean of the School of Health Professions and Education Patrice Hallock defines MSCHE as a process to make sure an institution does what it says and completes the job. They also make sure that students who receive financial aid are having their dollars well spent. A college whose students use financial aid also has to be accredited.

Hallock said the chance for an institution to not be accredited is very slim.

“We all need to take time to evaluate ourselves, and we have a culture at Utica College that is never stand still,” Hallock said. “This process makes us really stop and look at ourselves.”

She said this whole process involves looking at strengths and weaknesses and being able to live up to the Utica College mission.

Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs John Johnsen said there are a lot accrediting bodies for some of the professional programs on campus. For example, the occupational therapy program is accredited by the American Occupational Therapy Association. Each has different standards and are program specific.

The last time the college was accredited was in 2008. Looking forward, MSCHE wanted a shorter time frame, making it every eight years. However, there will still be annual checkups.

“There are certain standards that we must live up to, like the quality of campus life,” Johnsen said. “We are studying what we’re doing, and what we could do.”

Johnsen pointed out that it’s also predictable to know what the members of the visiting team want to see. However, there are legal limits on some files and documents.

“Their visit was scheduled well in advance,” Johnsen said. ”While they’re here they look at anyone; they can even go to the Strebel Student Center and ask students about certain things.”

When the visiting team came a few weeks ago, they had a presentation for faculty and staff members indicating what they found after visiting the college.

Depending on their visit, the team provided the college with suggestions, recommendations, requirements or a mix of all three. After the presentation, faculty and staff were not allowed to get up from their seats or ask questions until the visiting team had left.

After the visiting team came to the college, President Laura Casamento sent an email to faculty and staff regarding the visit.

“I am happy to report that our Visiting Team Chair, Dr. Thomas Botzman, stated that it is the Visiting Team’s opinion that Utica College has met all seven standards for accreditation,” Casamento said. “There were no requirements, which is outstanding news. There were a few minor suggestions, and several recommendations, the majority of which were already reflected in our self-study report.”

Casamento added that although MSCHE will have the final word on accreditation, and may add requirements if they determine it’s appropriate, Utica College will not have the final decision on reaccreditation until some time in July.

“Accreditation is for your (students’) benefit, if we pass, it indicates what we should be providing you,” Johnsen said. “It questions if we’re good at planning, operating with integrity and if our students are succeeding.”