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Middle States Self-Study Moving Ahead

By Lauren Ober

Photo by Jeff Watts

Photo by Jeff Watts

Every 10 years, American University engages in an exercise of assessment, critique, and self-reflection in order to gain national accreditation as an academic institution.

AU is currently undergoing this self-study, which will be used by the Middle States Association Commission on Higher Education to determine whether the university meets the requirements for accreditation. AU will also use the self-study to determine how well the institution is adhering to the best practices of higher education.

The self-study process begins with seven subcommittees, including the self-study steering committee. Each subcommittee is tasked with drafting a chapter addressing their respective focus areas: Leadership, Shared Governance and Administration; Faculty; Admitting, Supporting and Retaining Undergraduates; Undergraduate Education; Graduate Education; and Educational Initiatives: Addressing the Changing Nature of Higher Education.

More than 80 people are involved in the self-study process at AU. Those include faculty and staff, as well as a handful of students serving on various subcommittees.

“With this level of involvement and expertise, I am confident that we will demonstrate our ability to respond to challenges presented in the current higher education environment as well as our culture of continuous self-assessment and improvement,” said Provost Scott Bass, whose office oversees the self-study.

The steering committee is in the process of beginning to review the draft chapters submitted by the subcommittees, said Karen Froslid Jones, director of the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment and co-chair of the steering committee. Robert Blecker, professor of economics, serves as the committee’s other chairperson.

“We are fortunate to have an experienced team working on AU’s decennial Middle States accreditation,” Bass said. “Froslid Jones has been identified by Middle States as one of their experts and they frequently ask her to participate on visiting teams and to present at Middle States’ conferences. Professor Blecker served on the steering committee during the 2003 accreditation review and led the subcommittee on graduate education.”

Each week throughout the spring semester, the steering committee will be reviewing the draft chapters and offering suggestions for improvement. They will look for overlapping ideas and information gaps, as well as ensuring that the chapters have a consistent tone and style.

Each self-study chapter is meant to answer a series of questions drafted to help advance the mission of the university and ensure that AU is meeting the standards of accreditation, Jones said.

“This is a way of seeing how well AU is doing at fulfilling its mission and strategic goals,” she said.

By the end of the semester, the bulk of the writing and editing of the self-study draft will be finished. The draft document will be available for review by the AU community in the fall.

“We have to make sure that when the document is finished, people at the institution feel comfortable with it,” Jones said. “It should be honest and reflective, showing our strengths as an institution, as well as opportunities for improvement.”

Each chapter of the self-study will offer between two and three recommendations. The university will begin implementing those changes immediately in advance of the Middle States assessment team visit, which will be some time in 2014.

In 2003, when AU last completed a self-study, a number of recommendations came from the review process. Improvements to the library, a reduced teaching load, the implementation of a University College and a more robust assessment of student learning were all changes brought about from the last self-study.

“I think we had a lot of success implementing the recommendations from the last self-study because we took a lot of time to understand what AU needed. Plus, we reached out to the AU community for input and as a result we had a lot of buy-in in the process.

“We feel very comfortable with where we are, we’re doing a good job meeting the Middle States standards, and we welcome the opportunity to take a comprehensive look at the university,” Jones said.

For a list of subcommittee members and other information regarding the accreditation process, visit AU’s Middle States website.