A series of five Middle States Town Hall meetings in September have allowed the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) community to learn about the accreditation and self-study process and to provide input on the recommendations made so far.
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education is a regional accrediting organization that uses peer evaluation to assure quality and improvement in educational institutions. Middle States is one of seven regional accreditation organizations across the country. Middle States accreditation is necessary for the University to continue to receive federal funding.
UMB first earned Middle States accreditation in 1921, and the full accreditation process occurs every 10 years. The University currently is engaged in the self-study portion of the reaccreditation process, examining itself and identifying potential areas and strategies for improvement.
Self-study is a particularly valuable portion of the process, said Middle States steering committee co-chair Roger Ward, EdD, JD, MPA, chief accountability officer, vice president of operations and planning, and vice dean of the Graduate School at UMB. “We get this chance every 10 years to say, what are we doing well and where do we have room to improve?” Ward said.
The process will conclude with an evaluation team’s visit in April 2016, at which a Middle States group will visit the UMB campus led by Denise V. Rodgers, MD, vice chancellor for interprofessional programs at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. Rodgers will visit the campus for a preliminary visit first in November.
The five meetings on Sept. 1, 2, 3, and 9 in the Southern Management Corporation Campus Center and on Sept. 16 in Westminster Hall all were led by Middle States steering committee co-chairs Ward and Natalie D. Eddington, PhD, FAAPS, FCP, dean and professor of the School of Pharmacy and executive director of University Regional Partnerships. View a photo gallery
The events focused upon five specific themes that the Middle State steering committee has identified as particularly important to the Middle States self-study process: community engagement; educational innovation and transformation; student life, career development and support services; research, scholarship and entrepreneurship; and institutional effectiveness. Each of these themes has its own work group that has been working since the spring to identify recommendations for improving UMB’s performance in the given theme area.
Each working group decided upon several recommendations to present at the Town Hall meetings. At each meeting, dozens of volunteers divided into smaller groups to discuss and evaluate the recommendations, ranking the ideas in their order of importance. As the self-study process continues, the findings of the Town Hall meetings will be used to further narrow down the recommendations until there is one core recommendation left for each of the five themes.
The recommendations for the community engagement theme included strengthening an off-campus urban extension center to match outreach efforts with the needs the community expresses, and breaking down barriers to collaboration among UMB schools when it comes to community outreach.
The educational innovation and transformation committee recommended committing new resources such as information technology infrastructure to improve faculty development across all schools, and identifying new funding sources to assure the University remains affordable into the future.
The student life, career development, and support services work group recommended fostering a culture that supports excellent learning outcomes for students and strong co-curricular educational initiatives, as well as promoting the health and well-being of a diverse student body in an effort to maintain a foundation for success.
The recommendations of the research, scholarship, and entrepreneurship theme include creating a culture that values nontraditional funding sources, encouraging interdisciplinary, cooperative work among schools, and emphasizing ethics and integrity campuswide.
The institutional effectiveness theme recommendations include using a project management approach to evaluate key indicators related to UMB's strategic plan and core values.
The volunteers present at the Town Hall meetings heard presentations from Ward and Eddington on the Middle States process as a whole, and detailed presentations from the chairs of each working group explaining the reasoning behind the recommendations chosen for the theme at hand. A lively discussion followed, in which volunteers broken down into smaller groups debated the strengths and weaknesses of the recommendations, and their relative importance in the context of making the University stronger long into the future.
Terry Hollon, a project manager in the Office of Design and Construction within Facilities and Operations, volunteered for the community engagement Town Hall. Hollon has always been cognizant of community involvement, raised by parents committed to serving their community. “I see a problem, I want to fix it,” Hollon said. “I’m very hopeful” about the future of community outreach at UMB, Hollon added.
The community engagement topic was a natural fit for volunteer Shanda Crowder, EdD, MEd, director of the Center for Positive School Climate and Supportive Discipline, a new initiative of the School of Social Work. Crowder hoped the Town Hall would help her to learn more about the University, “and it’s good for me to come in here and offer a fresh perspective,” she said.
At the educational innovation and transformation Town Hall, Janice Hoffman, PhD, RN, associate professor and assistant dean for the baccalaureate program at the School of Nursing, was excited about the prospects of making the University more adaptive. “We need to be more innovative to meet our students where they are,” she said.
Volunteer Dzifa Dordunoo, PhD, RN, assistant professor at the School of Nursing, “wanted to hear what we can do better,” she said. “That’s why we’re here, to make students successful.”
Alison Watkins, conflict of interest officer and director of the research integrity office at UMB, said she wanted to be a part of the student life, career development, and support services Town Hall to learn more about the Middle States accreditation program. “I think this is a good opportunity to see this process,” she said. “I’ve never been a part of it before. It’s also an opportunity to learn a lot about the schools, about the things that make them unique.”
Students are always on the mind of Jimmy Heiner, assistant director for aquatics and safety education at URecFit. “What I do on a daily basis affects students,” he said. The Middle States process was giving him the opportunity to break out of his box in his day-to-day, he added: “I’m learning more about the outside campus community and what they do.”
Robin Klein, MSLS, special projects, research and assessment librarian at the Health Sciences and Human Services Library, participated in a working group and volunteered to check in other volunteers as the Town Hall meetings began. The Middle States process was a particularly good fit for her because of her professional focus, she said. “I’m interested in this whole idea that [the process promotes] more emphasis on assessment and evaluation of programs at the University and how to do it consistently across campus,” she said. “This has been a great experience, to learn so much more about how the whole campus works.”