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Middle States self-study offers guidelines for improvement

When the Middle States Commission on Higher Education team evaluates Lehigh University’s accreditation renewal efforts visits campus in March, a major part of its activities will be to assess the University’s self-study findings and recommendations.

The self-study, comprising two key reports—one on compliance with Middle States standards and the other on selected topics the university had chosen to explore more comprehensively—is the centerpiece of accreditation renewal. The selected-topics reports of Lehigh’s self-study focused on three areas: the first-year experience and beyond, technology support for a learning-centered mission, and advancement of student learning. It identifies areas where stronger ties to the university’s mission can be achieved and recommends ways to bring those ties to reality.

• The recommendations for improving the first-year experience involves the creation of hybrid advising and common intellectual experiences; launching academic and developmental initiatives in residence life; and dedicating resources specifically to coordinate freshmen activities and advocate for them. The full chapter is available online.

• In the area of technology support, the report recommends greater faculty recognition and rewards for innovation; increased strategic planning, goal-setting, outreach, and communication: and new information literacy initiatives and undergraduate training. The full chapter is available online.

• Regarding the advancement of student learning, the recommendations are to ensure the alignment of student-learning assessment with mission; link institutional assessment with learning assessment; integrate student-learning assessment with strategic planning and resource allocation; engage and support faculty in developing assessment processes; and involve alumni and employers in assessment initiatives. The full chapter is available online.

The self-study reports were drafted by subcommittees of Lehigh’s accreditation steering committee, shared with the entire campus community for review and suggestions, and submitted to the evaluation team. The reports’ recommendations will be used as part of the comprehensive strategic thinking process initiated by President Alice Gast last year.

“The self-study and the recommendations falling out of it are highly connected to Lehigh’s mission of advancing learning through the integration of teaching, research, and service, as well as to recent strategic thinking initiatives,” said Carl O. Moses, deputy provost for academic affairs and chair of the University’s accreditation steering committee. “Each one of our selected topics addresses this critical point. It is especially evident in the chapter about student-learning assessment, which we call ‘advancement of student learning’ to underscore the connection to mission.”

The submission of a self-study to external evaluators, who are faculty and administrators and other colleges or universities, parallels the academic concept of peer review. Providing documentation and evidence of compliance to standards and of institutional improvement efforts allows Lehigh to be held accountable to its mission by the academic community and, by extension, society at large, university officials observed.

“From the beginning of this project, we intended the self-study to be an authentic self-critique and, thus, a catalyst for improving Lehigh,” Moses said. “The rigor, comprehensiveness, and candor of the self-study process and the document’s review of our priorities, policies, and procedures go beyond ensuring compliance with Middle States’ standards and set us on the path to becoming an even better Lehigh.”

--Tom Durso

Posted on Tuesday, February 19, 2008

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