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Lehigh enters final phase of accreditation renewal process

Lehigh University’s process to secure renewal of its institution-wide accreditation enters the home stretch this semester. The evaluation team from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education will make its final campus visit in March and is expected to render a decision on the university’s accreditation sometime this summer.

Colleges and universities accredited by Middle States are required to submit for accreditation renewal every 10 years. The purposes of accreditation are to ensure that institutional processes meet a variety of standards established by the commission and to realign those processes with the school’s mission and goals.

The March visit will include discussions between the evaluation team and senior officers of the university, and all members of the Lehigh community will have an opportunity to meet with individual team members. In addition, the head of the evaluation team will make a public presentation to faculty, students and staff about its findings.

Lehigh’s accreditation process began in the fall of 2005 with the formation of a steering committee and subcommittees to start working and drafting documents for internal review. Two key reports comprising an institutional self-study – one on compliance with Middle States standards and the other on selected topics the university had chosen to explore more comprehensively – were drafted, shared with the campus community for review and suggestions, and submitted to the evaluation team.

The centerpiece of accreditation renewal is the self-study, in which the institution presents evidence in support of compliance with Middle States standards, identifies areas where stronger ties to mission can be achieved and recommends ways to bring those ties to reality. 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. Recommendations in these areas will be used as part of the comprehensive strategic planning process initiated by President Alice Gast last year.

“Accreditation is about making Lehigh a better university,” said Carl O. Moses, deputy provost for academic affairs and chair of the University’s accreditation steering committee. “By examining our programs, policies and priorities in the context of our institutional goals, we can continue to make certain that a Lehigh education has depth and meaning. This is important for all members of the Lehigh community – students, faculty, staff and alumni.”

Lehigh officials have worked hard to make the accreditation process transparent and inclusive. Multiple e-mails and Web postings have kept the campus informed of the process since it was launched in 2006, and members of every campus constituency have served on the committees and subcommittees charged with shepherding the university’s efforts. At every stage of the process people have been strongly encouraged to participate by offering feedback used to refine and inform the self-study.

The Middle States evaluation team includes faculty and administrators from several colleges and universities. By opening up internal processes and policies to external evaluators, Lehigh is engaging in the kind of institutional peer review that mirrors the rigorous standards of scholarship and the advancement of knowledge. Additionally, accreditation renewal serves not as an end but a beginning, as the university actualizes the self-study recommendations and acts on the evaluation team’s observations.

“The accreditation process outcomes orient us to directions for ongoing self-improvement as we pursue closer alignment with Lehigh’s goals and mission,” said Moses. “Accreditation is not a one-time process that can be set aside for another 10 years. It’s a terrific opportunity for us to strengthen the university.”

--Tom Durso

Posted on Monday, January 21, 2008

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