Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) is holding its annual meeting in Washington DC and we are here. As we listened to the plenary talks and met other folks in higher ed, I wondered if it was as apparent to others as it is to us why our assessment team is here?
As an assessment group we spend a lot of our time thinking of ways to link the fantastic work of our faculty and students to measurable outcomes. The work that it takes to define what is to be measured, how it will be measured, and how it will be fed back into improving the educational environment or back to the student is far more taxing than the actual measuring itself once we have a plan. As a group we work with all of our stakeholders to determine what plan is best for our students and faculty. While we do that, we look to see how we can feed these results back into the loop to assure our accrediting body that we are doing what we set out to achieve.
At the institutional level, MSCHE is that accrediting body, and like many higher education accrediting bodies, it is made of higher education faculty and administrators. In short: it is us. Middle States is rolling out new standards and unsurprisingly those standards reflect many of its stakeholders aspirations and challenges for higher education. As a faculty member working in the trenches, splitting time between research, teaching, and scholarship it is a challenge to take the time to measure how that effort contributes to the good that higher education provides. It is difficult to see what society expects from higher education institutions and how they are reacting to our work. Taking the time to listen to the accrediting body that credits us as a degree granting institution and meeting with other stakeholders, provides a moment for faculty to pause and reflect on where higher education is today and where it may be going.
As I listened to the talks and the crowd, I thought about how important it is for faculty to reflect upon the mission of their institution, but also their own goals as a teacher, scholar, and educator. If we are to have an impact in a meaningful way, we must take time to think carefully as to what we can reasonably achieve and what society wants and expects of us.
So why should faculty attend an annual accreditor’s meeting?
As I listened to one of the talks a speaker paused for a second and noted that faculty should be able to describe what the standards are. The standards? “Those esoteric rules and chains that we are held to”, I thought. And then it struck me that, yes, we really should be able to. In fact if the standards are any good, they should aim to quantify the very characteristics that drew us to higher education in the first place. The standards serve as a description of the good that a degree can provide to a student and the good that an institution can provide to society.