Every eight years, colleges must undergo an accreditation process to make sure students’ degrees are really worthy of their name. Over the next two years, several committees and working groups will be trying to make sure the college fits its standards.
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education’s standards include goals related to ethics, integrity, educational effectiveness, institutional improvement, governance, leadership, administration and more.
With the Middle States Self-Study Steering Committee forming at the start of this semester, the college’s two-year reaccreditation process is underway and will culminate with a visit from Middle States in spring of 2019.
Middle States, a voluntary, nongovernmental membership association, conducts accreditation and pre-accreditation activities for institutions of higher education.
“It’s about assessing who we are as an institution,” said Jamila Bookwala, who is the co-chair of the steering committee and the dean of curriculum and research. “Who we are, what our goals are, and what is our strategic direction right now. What is the student experience like, how are we moving in the direction of achieving our goals.”
“The steering committee right now is putting together right now what is called a self-study design,” Bookwala added, “which is essentially going to be delivered to Middle States, telling them this is what we plan to cover in our self study.”
Bookwala called the self-study, which has to be submitted to Middle States in spring of 2019, an “institutional assessment.”
The college’s steering committee is made up of 14 members of the faculty and administration and one member of the board of trustees. They will be seeking out students and faculty to take part in the college’s working groups in the coming weeks, Bookwala said.
One or more campus-wide open meetings will be held to gauge student interest in the groups. The working groups will each contribute to making the self-study design that the college has to submit to their Middle States liaison at the beginning of April.
There will be six working groups total. Two of the standards will be addressed by one group, but each other one will have its own working group.
President Alison Byerly said that the ultimate self-study document will outline the college’s plan moving forward and the progress made over the next two years.
“We will end up writing up a document of some 50 or 60 pages…[that says] here’s where we are right now, and here are things we think we could do better,” she said.
On April 18, Middle States’ liaison to Lafayette Ellie Fogarty, a vice president of institutional field relations, will be paying a visit to the college, not to evaluate Lafayette but to provide feedback on the committee’s self-study design.
“It’s not an evaluation visit at all. It’s a visit to have a dialogue with her,” Bookwala said. “She wants to have an opportunity to meet the president and the provost and the steering committee, the working groups, other representatives on campus including students. It’s really an opportunity for us to get feedback from her, on our self-study design.”
“If we say we want to strengthen advising, which is something we’ve been talking about, they would come back in two years and say, well what have you done in your advising program that shows that you’ve made progress,” Byerly said.
“It’s kind of a system of checks that’s meant to keep institutions focused on constant improvement,” she added.
English professor Patricia Donahue and Bookwala were chosen to be the co-chairs for the committee last semester in late October, Bookwala said. She and Donahue traveled to an institute held by Middle States for institutions undergoing accreditation.
“We came back [from the institute] and we had meetings with Provost Rizvi and President Byerly to talk about initiatives that we want to guide our self-study process,” Bookwala said. “So we’ve talked about initiatives for Lafayette including diversity, making sure that the student learning experience is rich and rigorous, so really important experiences that define us as an institution.”
The college last underwent the full reaccreditation process of Middle States in 2009, but also underwent midterm review two years ago. Bookwala said that she did not have the authority to release reports from these reviews in time for print. She also said she fully expects the college to be reaccredited this time around without issue.