Rules and Regs

The College has just submitted its Periodic Review Report (or PRR) to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, our accrediting agency.   The PRR is an “interim” report, provided at the midpoint between our decennial self-studies.    Though it is not quite the bustle of a self-study – e.g. the bulk of the work is accomplished by one committee that works with others across campus, rather than a multitude of committees; there is no on-site visit from a team of examiners – it is an important accreditation event that takes a great deal of time and work to prepare.  A team of external evaluators will examine our document and accompanying materials to determine whether we are making progress in the areas identified in our last self study, and continue to meet the standards of excellence required by the Commission.  They will make recommendations to the Commission, and the Commission will review our accreditation status in the fall.

Our PRR steering committee worked through last year to revisit our last self-study and report of our examiners, and assess just how we have been doing in the many areas addressed.  The last five years have been a time of considerable change at the College – we came through the economic downturn, had a presidential transition, developed a new strategic plan, and are in the implementation stages of many new initiatives arising from the plan.   The committee had a lot to grapple with.  Their work was assembled and a report drafted through the summer and fall, and shared with the community for comment and input.   A final draft was prepared this spring.  Summarizing all of that activity in one document was difficult, but the result attests to how busy we have all been!

Middle States Federal Regulation FormWe were in great shape on timing of this process, had planned and paced ourselves well.   Our review gave us a good sense of the areas where we have made good progress and those we need to focus on.  We would complete our report before the deadline.    But there is another part of the PRR submission process that has been revised since our last accreditation event – the “Verification of Compliance with Accreditation-Relevant Federal Regulations.”

Of course we comply with all federal regulations, but this new form requires an assemblage of evidence, and this task had not been on our radar.   Doh!  So much for being ahead of schedule.  Off we scurried to locate our written policies, and figure out what evidence we could gather to demonstrate that we are indeed adhering to them.   We discovered that we actually did need to clarify and better codify a few things, particularly how we assign credit value to a course.  This was one of those things that we have done the same way since anyone living could remember.   We’ve never had a problem, and so it didn’t occur to us that our policy might not be crystal clear.   But it wasn’t!   So we revisited and tweaked our policy and will be giving it more attention going forward.  This was not a fun exercise, but it probably is exactly the result intended by this new requirement.   Having a vague policy that relies on everybody simply following tradition could be a problem waiting to happen – and one which we have avoided.

Published by

Robin Huntington Shores

Currently the Director of Institutional Research and Assessment at Swarthmore College, Robin has worked in Institutional Research for over 20 years at a range of institutions.