Monday, January 21st, 2019

NEASC visits USM for mid-cycle review

Bradford Spurr

Posted on April 14, 2016 in News
By USM Free Press

By Nicholas Beauchesne, Sports Editor

Every ten years, the University of Southern Maine gets evaluated by  the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) on an array of standards that all reputable academic institutions in the region are assessed on.

These evaluations are directly tied to the university’s standing as an accredited institution. The last official accreditation visit took place in 2011. Five years after each NEASC accreditation, USM is required to complete an Interim Report, where they are tasked with showing what steps have been taken since the last visit, as well as what other things the university needs to work on in order to ensure a positive assessment in 2021. In the middle of this ten year cycle this year, USM hosted NEASC representatives visiting the campus this past week.

Universities are evaluated on a set of 11 separate standards, each of which has a series of sub-standards that further encompass what makes up a university. Ranging from Mission and Purposes, Students, Faculty, Financial Resources and Integrity, the standards, created by faculty and administrators from across the region, aim to evaluate all of the facets of an academic institution.

In preparing for the Interim Report, USM was required to address  what it has done to improve upon the standards that were highlighted as areas to work on in 2011. A progress report, drafted in 2013, reported out on those issues, which included system finances and data collection.

Accreditation is run out of the office of the Provost at USM. Sally Meredith, Chief of Staff of the Office of the Provost, explained how the points of emphasis in the 2011 accreditation process coalesce with issues the university has been dealing in the time following the last visit by NEASC.

“We are constantly seeking to improve our institution. There is no time to rest on your accreditation in this process,” stated Meredith. “With the end of each cycle begins another one, so we work constantly to grow through assessing ourselves and making adjustments based on the data we collect.”

During the NEASC visits, the focus on accreditation and self-assessment goes into overdrive. Despite the fact that this part of the cycle is only a half-way progress report of sorts, the emphasis on remains on ensuring that the university is prepared to present its progress when official re-accreditation comes around in 2021.

It is important to understand that the standing of USM as an accredited institution is not something that is in jeopardy. Meredith explained that every institution gets critiqued, and this midcycle check-in allows them to catalogue internally where USM has grown and where they still need to imrpove.

“Schools that find themselves in danger of losing their accreditation demonstrate systemic failure over a period of time, and we are not in that situation at all,” she stated.

The visit by members of NEASC involved meetings with students, faculty and administration. Informational luncheons were held over the course of the week where members of the USM community voiced their concerns and opinions about the direction that the university is heading.

The range of opinions varied greatly with the experiences of each individual. A recurring theme  particular attention during discussions were issues concerning recent retrenchment and how the university has handled its responsibility to teach out (provide a means for students to complete their degree) to the students that were matriculating through a discipline that has been eliminated.

This concern, along with those surrounding implementation of  recommendations concerning the Metropolitan University model and USM’s goals to increase enrollment, are at the center of focus for what to improve upon during the five years between now and the 2021 NEASC visit.

As much NEASC evaluation is from an outside entity looking in at USM, the process of the accreditation cycle emphasizes the importance of academic institutions striving to improve themselves from within. Adam Tuchinsky, interim dean of the college of arts, humanities and social sciences, expressed this opportunity that the NEASC Interim Report affords the university in terms of self-measurement.

“They (NEASC) wants to see that we are actually assessing ourselves, and that, based on how we are measuring ourselves, look to see that we are making decisions for the future of the university, based on evidence.”

The full report from NEASC will not be received by USM until November of this year. From that point forward, there will be a little less than five years before the 2021 accreditation period. In the five years between now and then, USM will continue striving to grow and improve.


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