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Glossary of Terms
- Academic Calendar
A period of time designated by a college or university that includes dates for registration, additions and deletions to students’ class schedules, beginning and ending of semesters/terms, mid-term and final exams, application for graduation, and other key activities.
- Academic Credit
Credit earned by students for successful completion of college-level courses and applicable toward degrees.
- Academic Program
An instructional program leading toward an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctor’s degree, resulting in credits that can be applied to one of these degrees.
- Academic Year
A period of time that colleges use to measure a quantity of study.
- Accelerated Program
Completion of a program of study in fewer than the usual number of years, most often by attending summer sessions and carrying extra courses during the regular academic term.
MSCHE “accepts” a letter or report when its quality, thoroughness, and clarity are sufficient to respond to all of the Commission’s concerns, without requiring additional information to assess the institution’s status.
A process of peer review that the educational community has adopted for self-regulation since early in the 20th century. It is a voluntary process intended to strengthen and sustain the quality and integrity of higher education, making it worthy of public confidence. Institutions choose to apply for accredited status, and once accredited, they agree to abide by the standards of their accrediting organization and to regulate themselves by taking responsibility for their own improvement.
- Accreditation Commission
MSCHE is one of seven regional accreditors throughout the United States. MSCHE is responsible for colleges and universities in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and selected institutions abroad. Because MSCHE is an accrediting body that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, students at MSCHE-accredited institutions are eligible under Title IV to receive federal student financial assistance.
- Accreditation Liaison Officer (ALO)
An individual designated by an institution as the key point of contact with MSCHE on accreditation matters.
- Accreditation Status
MSCHE can grant accreditation to an institution, reaffirm accreditation, or take a number of other actions, ranging from follow-up visits and monitoring reports, to probation, show cause, or removal of accreditation. A Statement of Accreditation Status (SAS) for each MSCHE member institution is posted on MSCHE’s website under Institutions.
- Acronyms Commonly Used in Higher Education
AACRAO: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers
ACE: American Council on Education
ALO: Accreditation Liaison Officer
AA: Associate of Arts degree
AAS: Associate of Applied Science degree
AFA: Associate of Fine Arts degree
AS: Associate of Science degree
BA: Bachelor of Arts degree
BFA: Bachelor of Fine Arts degree
BS: Bachelor of Science degree
BSN: Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree
CAEL: Council for Adult and Experiential Learning
CEU: Continuing Education Unit
CHEA: Council for Higher Education Accreditation
CLEP: College Level Examination Program
C-RAC: Council of Regional Accreditation Commissions
EdD: Doctor of Education degree
FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid
FASB: Financial Accounting Standards Board
FTE: Full-time Equivalent student
GED: General Education Development high school equivalency certificate
GMAT: Graduate Management Admission Test
GPA: Grade-Point Average
GRE: Graduate Record Exam
HEOA: Higher Education Opportunity Act
INQAAHE: International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education
IPEDS: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System
IP: Institutional Profile
LSAT: Law School Admission Test
MA: Master of Arts degree
MBA: Master of Business Administration degree
MD: Medical Doctor degree
MFA: Master of Fine Arts degree
MS: Master of Science degree
MSCHE: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
MSN: Master of Science in Nursing degree
MSW: Master of Social Work degree
NACIQI: National Advisory Center for Institutional Quality and Integrity
NACUBO: National Association of College and University Business Officers
NAFSA: National Association of Foreign Student Affairs
NCHEMS: National Center for Higher Education Management Systems
PDS: Public Disclosure Statement
PhD: Doctor of Philosophy degree
PharmD: – Doctor of Pharmacy
PRR: Periodic Review Report
SAS: Statement of Accreditation Status
SAT: Scholastic Aptitude Test
TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language
USDOE/USED: United States Department of Education
USNEI: United States Network for Education Information
- Additional Location
A location, other than a branch campus, that is geographically apart from the main campus and at which the institution offers at least 50 percent of an educational program. Additional locations may be domestic or international. Institutions are required to inform MSCHE about additional locations under its Substantive Change policy.
- Adjunct Faculty
Part-time instructors at colleges and universities.
- Admission Policy
The criteria by which an institution determines which applicants will be admitted.
- Adverse Accrediting Action
The withdrawal of accreditation or candidate status, or denial of an applicant for accreditation, by a recognized accreditation commission. A complete description of potential MSCHE adverse actions can be found in the policy Standardized Language for Commission Actions on Accreditation.
- Affirming Actions
In the event that an institution meets the Commission’s standards for accreditation and there is no question or concern regarding the institution’s continued compliance, the Commission may act to reaffirm accreditation.
A petition submitted by a member or candidate institution requesting reconsideration of an adverse decision by MSCHE.
An official act by a state department of education or higher education, or another agency having official authority, certifying that a particular institution or specialized program within that institution, complies with the minimum legal requirements for such units within that jurisdiction. Official approval granted by a government agency is different from accreditation, which is granted by an accrediting agency and involves much more stringent guidelines.
Also known as Transfer Articulation, this process involves cooperation between two or more higher education institutions to match courses and facilitate the transfer of students’ credits from one college or university to another.
- Assessment of Institutional Effectiveness
A process whereby a college or university has developed and implemented steps to evaluate its overall effectiveness in achieving its mission and goals, and its compliance with Middle States accreditation standards
- Assessment of Student Learning
A process that demonstrates that, at graduation or other appropriate points, an institution’s students have knowledge, skills, and competencies that are consistent with institutional and appropriate higher education goals.
- Asynchronous Learning
A type of distance learning in which there is no requirement for the instructor and students to interact in “real” time.
- Branch Campus
As defined by MSCHE, a branch campus is a location of an institution that is geographically apart and independent of the main campus of the institution. Branch campuses may be domestic or international. The location is considered independent if it offers courses in educational programs leading to a degree, certificate, or other recognized educational credential; has its own faculty and administrative or supervisory organization; and has its own budgetary and hiring authority. MSCHE member institutions must notify the Commission if they plan to establish a branch campus, and must submit a business plan for the branch campus.
- Carnegie Classification
Derived from empirical data on colleges and universities, the Carnegie Classification System has been used for more than three decades as the leading framework for describing institutional diversity in U.S. higher education. It has been widely used in the study of higher education, both as a way to represent and control institutional differences, and in the design of research studies, to ensure adequate representation of sampled institutions, students, and faculty.
A formal award certifying the satisfactory completion of a postsecondary education program. Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) defines several types of certificates: A Postsecondary Award, Certificate or Diploma is an award that requires completion of an organized program of study at the postsecondary level (below the baccalaureate level). A Post-Baccalaureate Certificate is an award that requires completion of an organized program of study equivalent to 18 semester credit hours beyond the bachelor’s degree. It is designed for persons who have completed a baccalaureate degree, but does not meet the requirements of a master’s degree. A Post-Master’s Certificate is an award that requires completion of an organized program of study equivalent to 24 semester credit hours beyond the master’s degree, but does not meet the requirements of academic degrees at the doctorate level.
An institution that is seeking initial accreditation or reaffirmation of accreditation must affirm that it meets or continues to meet established MSCHE requirements of affiliation and federal requirements relating to Title IV program participation.
- Change in Legal Status
A merger, consolidation with another institution, sale of a proprietary institution, or the beginning or ending of public sponsorship and control, are all examples of a change in legal status. An institution that expects to undergo such a change must notify MSCHE as soon as it is aware of the potential change.
This is a generic term that refers to any postsecondary educational institution that is eligible for accreditation or is already accredited by MSCHE. It is a synonym for “institution.”
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education
MSCHE’s complaint procedures were created to address non-compliance with the Commission’s or the institution’s standards, policies, or procedures. They are not intended to be used to involve the Commission in disputes between individuals and affiliated institutions, or to cause the Commission to interpose itself as a reviewing authority in individual matters of admission, grades, granting or transferability of credits, application of academic policies, fees or other financial matters, disciplinary matters, contractual rights and obligations, personnel decisions, or similar matters. See the MSCHE policy on Complaints Involving Member and Candidate Institutions.
- Comprehensive Self-Study
Every 10 years, as part of the MSCHE decennial review process, member institutions must conduct a comprehensive self-study. In this self-study, the institution carefully considers its educational programs and services, with particular attention to student learning and achievement, and it determines how well these programs and services accomplish the institution’s goals, fulfill its mission, and meet the Commission’s standards.
Under the leadership of a steering committee appointed by the institution, working groups or subcommittees examine existing data and evaluative reports, gather new information, and prepare analytical reports on their assigned topics. The steering committee edits the reports of the various working groups, produces a final draft for discussion, and disseminates the final self-study document. A broad cross-section of the campus community is expected to participate in the self-study process at each stage.
- Concurrent or Dual Degrees
In these programs, often referred to as joint degrees, two separate degrees are pursued concurrently and seamlessly by the student. The degrees may be conferred by one or more institutions.
- Confidentiality of Information
Much information that a member institution and the Commission share with each other is considered confidential and is not normally released to the public. Particularly involving the comprehensive self-study, the institution is able to engage in an honest assessment of its strengths and weakness and propose steps to correct weaknesses, without such aspects of its operations being seen by third parties. Institutions are unable to release to the general public or specific third parties any detailed information about their students due to stringent federal privacy laws. In particular, the Family Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits the release of most student information without the student’s written permission.
- Conflict of Interest
The MSCHE Conflict of Interest policies are designed to maintain the integrity, credibility, and codes of good conduct in accreditation and policy making processes and to avoid actual conflicts, potential conflicts, or even the appearance of conflicts of interest in the Commission’s decisions.
Individuals covered by these policies include Commissioners, team chairs, team members, Substantive Change Committee members, Periodic Review Report reviewers, Finance associates, Candidate Institution consultants, and members of the MSCHE staff.
The Commission will not assign an individual as a chair, team member, reader, or reviewer if:
the individual’s home institution is part of the same system;
s/he has been a candidate for employment in the evaluated institution within the past year;
s/he has been employed by the institution within the past five years;
s/he belongs to the governing body of the institution;
s/he has a personal, business, consultative, or other interest in or relationship to the institution under review and consideration that could affect her/his objectivity;
s/he has a material interest in a positive accreditation outcome based on a significant business or other fiduciary agreement (excluding routine articulation or similar inter-institutional agreements);
s/he has a family member who is an employee, board member, candidate for employment, or student at the institution;
s/he has expressed personal opinions bearing upon the accreditability of the institution;
s/he is an alumnus of the institution;
s/he or his/her immediate family hold shares of stock (excluding shares held indirectly through mutual funds, insurance policies or blind trusts) in an applicant, candidate, or accredited institution, or their respective parent company or affiliated entity.
A person who provides professional and/or technical advice to an institution. Consultants may be paid or unpaid. To avoid the appearance of a possible conflict of interest, no member of a Middle States visiting team may serve as a paid consultant in any area related to accreditation to the institution being visited for a period of one year following the official accreditation action.
- Contact Hour/Clock Hour
A unit of measure that represents an hour of scheduled instruction given to students.
- Continuing Education Unit (CEU)
A measurement of participation in non-credit professional development activities.
- Contractual Agreements
Certain agreements (contracts) with an institution or organization not accredited by a federally recognized agency to provide any portion of a postsecondary educational program that leads to an academic or professional degree, certificate, or other recognized educational credential on behalf of the accredited institution, are subject to review by MSCHE. For details, see the MSCHE policy Contracts by Accredited and Candidate Institutions for Education-Related Services.
- Core Values
MSCHE is guided by 10 Core Values in its daily operations. These include voluntary membership; self-regulation and peer review; a continuous and seamless relationship with member institutions to promote continuous self-evaluation and institutional improvement; respect for the unique mission of each institution and evaluation within that context; student learning and effective teaching; transparency about the accreditation processes and the status held by each member institution; commitment to the principles of cooperation, flexibility, and openness; responsiveness to the needs of the higher education community and societal changes; consideration of societal and institutional needs through attention to and emphasis on both improvement and compliance; and responsiveness to a diverse, dynamic, global higher education community that is continually evolving.
- Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)
A national advocate and institutional voice for self-regulation of academic quality through accreditation, CHEA is an association of 3,000 degree-granting colleges and universities and recognizes 60 institutional and programmatic accrediting organizations.
- Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions (C-RAC)
A council of the seven regional accrediting organizations in the United States, including MSCHE, the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New England Association of Colleges and Schools, the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the Western Association of College and Schools: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, and the Western Association of Colleges and Schools: The Senior Commission.
An instructional subject taught in a designated period of time and commonly described with a formal number and title, expected student learning outcomes, and number of credits awarded for successful completion.
Credentials typically refer to the degree or certificate a student has earned for successful completion of a program along with appropriate experiences, written testimonials, and other documentation.
- Credit/Credit Hour
Credits are units earned by students for the successful completion of coursework.
- Decennial Review
The decennial review is a mandatory process under which MSCHE accredited institutions must undergo a comprehensive self-study and an on-site peer review every 10 years.
Failure to repay a federally guaranteed student loan according to the terms agreed to when a student/parent/guardian signed a promissory note.
There are four degree levels within higher education: Associate, Baccalaureate (also known as Bachelor’s), Master’s, and Doctorate.
A formal document certifying the successful completion of a prescribed program of studies.
- Distance Education/Distance Learning
An educational process in which all or the majority of the instruction occurs with the instructor and student in different locations. Instruction may be synchronous (in real time; simultaneous) or asynchronous. MSCHE requires that a member institution obtain prior approval, through the Substantive Change process, before offering 50 percent or more of a degree or certificate program through distance education. The 50 percent standard includes only programs offered in their entirety via distance education, not programs utilizing mixed delivery methods. The Commission requires that the first two programs for which 50 percent or more is offered via distance education be submitted for Commission review and approval. In special circumstances further programs may require formal Commission review and action. The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 contains new requirements that require accreditors to more closely examine distance education programs. For current MSCHE guidelines on distance education, read the policy on Substantive Change.
- Doctor’s Degree-Other
A Doctor’s degree that does not meet the definition of a Doctor’s degree-Research/Scholarship or Doctor’s degree-Professional Practice.
- Doctor’s Degree- Professional Practice
A Doctor’s degree that is conferred upon completion of a program providing the knowledge and skills for the recognition, credential, or license required for professional practice. The degree is awarded for a period of study such that the total time to degree, including both pre-professional and professional preparation, equals at least six full-time equivalent academic years.
Some of these degrees were formerly classified as “First Professional,” and may include Chiropractic (DC or DCM), Dentistry (DDM or DMD), Law (LLB or JD), Medicine (MD), Optometry (OD), Osteopathic Medicine (DO), Pharmacy (PharmD), Podiatry (DPM, PodD, or DP), Veterinary Medicine (DVM), or others as may be designated by the awarding institution.
- Doctor’s Degree-Research/Scholarship
A PhD or other Doctor’s degree that requires advanced work beyond the Master’s level including the preparation and defense of a dissertation based on original research, or the planning and execution of an original project demonstrating substantial artistic or scholarly achievement.
Some examples of this type of degree include the PhD, EdD, DMA, DBA, DSc, DA, DM, and others as designated by the awarding institution.
- Documents Receipt Of…
The Commission “Documents Receipt Of …” a letter or report when it addresses the Commission’s concerns only partially because the letter or report had limited institutional responses to requested information, did not present evidence and analysis conducive to Commission review, were of insufficient quality, or necessitated extraordinary effort by the Commission’s representatives and staff performing the review. Relevant reasons for not “accepting” the letter or report are noted in the action. The Commission may or may not require additional information in order to assess the institution’s status.
- Dual or Concurrent Degrees
In these programs, often referred to as joint degrees, two separate degrees are pursued concurrently and seamlessly by the student. The degrees may be conferred by one or more institutions.
A process through which MSCHE and member institutions periodically and jointly conduct a review of the institution’s adherence to the Commission’s standards.
- Evaluation Committee
A committee of MSCHE commissioners, staff members, and peer evaluators that reviews reports from evaluation teams and makes recommendations to the full Commission.
- Evaluation Team
The group of peer evaluators that reviews an institution’s self-study, visits the campus to verify the contents of the self-study, and makes recommendations to the Commission for reaffirmation of accreditation, corrective action, or other steps.
A volunteer from a peer institution who serves on an Evaluation Team or in other roles, such as a reviewer of Periodic Review Reports, a member of a Monitoring Team, or a reviewer of Substantive Change requests.
- Experiential Learning
Knowledge gained through practical work experience for which an institution, through a formalized process, may analyze and award related academic credit to a student.
The instructional staff of a college or university. At some institutions certain academic support personnel, including librarians and counselors, are also classified as faculty.
- Family Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
The primary federal law that regulates student records and what limited information may be released without a student’s permission.
- Financial Aid
Assistance that is provided to a student to help him/her pay tuition and fees, purchase books, or cover other college-related costs, such as transportation to classes, and room and board. Financial aid may take the form of grants, scholarships, or loans from federal, state, local, and private sources.
- Full-time Student
A full-time student is one who is enrolled for 12 or more semester hours, 12 or more quarter credits, or 24 or more contact hours per week each term. A full-time graduate student is enrolled for 9 or more semester credits, 9 or more quarter credits, or is involved in thesis or dissertation preparation that the institution considers as full-time.
- General Education
A core group of courses that are typically required of all Associate and Baccalaureate degree-level students, regardless of their major.
- General Education Development (GED)
A battery of high school equivalency tests that generates an equivalency certificate upon successful completion.
- Higher Education
Postsecondary education that focuses primarily on the earning of degrees, certificates, or credentials.
- Higher Education Opportunity Act
Enacted by Congress on Aug. 14, 2008, the HEOA sets guidelines for colleges and universities, accreditation agencies, and others involved in U.S. higher education. The law also established rules on student loans, grants to institutions, and other issues.
- Independent College/University
An institution of higher learning that receives little or no tax support and whose board is not publicly chosen or appointed. Also commonly known as private colleges/universities.
- Independent Study Credit Hour
One independent study hour (including thesis or dissertation research) is calculated similarly to practice credit hours. See MSCHE Degree and Credit Guidelines for further details.
- Jointly Conferred Degree
A single degree jointly conferred by two institutions.
The process by which a state or federal government agency grants permission for people who have earned certain credentials and met pre-determined qualifications, to work in a designated field and use designated titles. Under certain conditions, institutions of higher learning can also be licensed to perform designated functions.
- Mission and Goals
The words that identify an institution’s specific purpose(s) and aims. An institution’s mission statement describes its philosophy and serves as a guide for all that it does. The mission and its supporting goals provide points of reference for decisions on student admission, course and program offerings, community outreach, financial matters, and more.
- Monitoring Report
Monitoring reports are requested by MSCHE when, during an accreditation team visit or during the review of an institution’s Periodic Review Report, the Commission becomes concerned about the potential for future non-compliance with one or more standards of accreditation. Issues may have been identified that are more complex, numerous, or require a substantive, detailed response from the institution. Requests for monitoring reports include a deadline for receipt.
- Non-Compliance Actions
A non-compliance action indicates that the Commission has identified one or more areas in which the institution does not meet the Commission’s standards for accreditation. These areas are identified as requirements in a team, reviewers’ or other report, and they are specifically stated in the Commission’s action.
- Other Instructional Sites
MSCHE defines an instructional site/other instructional site as a location, other than a branch campus or additional location, at which the institution offers one or more courses for credit. Other instructional sites should be noted on the annual Institutional Profile (IP).
Commission approval is not required for an instructional site to be included within the scope of accreditation. However, if an instructional site changes over time and meets the definition of an Additional Location or Branch Campus, further reporting and a Substantive Change review are required. Sites established outside the U.S. for the sole purpose of offering courses through the study abroad experience are not considered to be instructional sites. If 50 percent or more of a program is offered, the site will meet the definition of an Additional Location and must be reviewed and approved accordingly. See MSCHE’s policy on Substantive Change for details.
- Part-time Student
A student who is typically enrolled for fewer than 12 credits per semester and does not attend a college on a full-time basis.
- Peer Evaluator
An individual who has been trained by MSCHE to serve on a visiting team or as a reader/reviewer of institutional self-studies, Periodic Review Reports, monitoring reports, or other documents requested by MSCHE. Peer evaluators typically are employed by peer institutions as presidents, provosts, deans, directors, or faculty.
- Peer Review
The process by which representatives from similar institutions analyze an institution’s self-study or other written reports to determine the institution’s compliance with MSCHE accreditation standards. Peer reviewers also participate as members of visitation teams during each institution’s MSCHE decennial review. Peer reviewers include presidents, provosts, directors of assessment, chief financial officers, faculty, and others from MSCHE member institutions.
- Periodic Review Report (PRR)
The PRR, due five years after the decennial self-study and reaffirmation of accreditation, is a retrospective, current, and prospective analysis of the institution. As an essential phase of the accreditation cycle, the PRR should demonstrate that the institution meets the standards by which the Commission reaffirms or denies accredited status. For further details read MSCHE’s Handbook for Periodic Review Reports.
- Policies, Guidelines, and Procedures
MSCHE has developed policies, guidelines, and procedures that address the responsibilities of the Commission and its member institutions. These documents, all available under the policies section of MSCHE’s website, include general accreditation policies as well as those that refer specifically to the peer review process, the programs and services offered by member institutions, and administrative procedures of the Commission.
- Political Intervention
MSCHE policy prohibits direct intervention by elected or appointed officials, political parties, or pressure groups in the selection of faculty, the determination of curricula, textbooks, course content, or in admissions or retention policies. In addition, the tenure of an educational administrator must not be subject to political partisanship, nor should appointments to the Board of Trustees or the faculty be made only with regard to their political implications. For more information, consult MSCHE’s policy on Political Intervention in Education.
- Postsecondary Education
Education offered to individuals who have successfully completed high school or who have earned a General Education Development (GED) high school equivalency certificate. Postsecondary education focuses primarily on the earning of degrees, certificates, or credentials.
- Private College/University
An institution of higher learning that receives little or no tax support and whose board is not publicly chosen or appointed. Also commonly known as independent colleges/universities.
The Commission places an institution on Probation when, in the Commission’s judgment, the institution is not in compliance with one or more Commission standards and that the non-compliance is sufficiently serious, extensive, or acute that it raises concerns about one or more of the following: the adequacy of the education provided by the institution; the institution’s capacity to make appropriate improvements in a timely fashion; or the institution’s capacity to sustain itself in the long term.
Probation is often, but need not always be, preceded by an action of Warning or Postponement. For details on the Commission’s complete range of actions, read the MSCHE policy on Accreditation Actions (formerly Range of Commission Actions on Accreditation).
A systematic grouping of courses that forms most or all of the requirements for a degree or other academic credential.
- Progress Letter
The Commission may direct the institution to describe in a Progress Letter its progress relative to recommendations made by the visitation team or reviewer. The Commission also may require the institution to address activities that were being planned or implemented at the time of the on-site evaluation to enhance institutional effectiveness. For details on the Commission’s complete range of actions, read the MSCHE policy on Accreditation Actions (formerly Range of Commission Actions on Accreditation).
The title given to the chief academic officer at many colleges and universities.
- Public College/University
An institution of higher learning whose board is appointed by public officials or elected by members of the public, and which receives funding support from public sources, such as tax dollars.
- Public Disclosure Statement (PDS)
When a Commission action involves Warning, Probation, or Show Cause, Commission staff will develop a Public Disclosure Statement that is sent to the institution with the Commission’s action letter and the Statement of Accreditation Status. The Public Disclosure Statement is also posted on the Commission website along with the institution’s Statement of Accreditation Status.
Some U.S. institutions use a quarter calendar, in which the academic year is divided into three terms, called quarters, of 10-11 weeks’ duration plus a summer session (considered the fourth quarter, but optional), a short winter term, and other calendar breaks.
- Rapid Growth
The Commission may, at its discretion, conduct visits to additional locations, to ensure that accredited and pre-accredited institutions that experience rapid growth in the number of additional locations maintain educational quality.
- Reaffirm Accreditation
When the Commission determines an institution is in full compliance with all 14 accreditation standards, it “reaffirms” or renews an institution’s accreditation for a designated period of time. For details on the Commission’s complete range of actions, read the MSCHE policy on Accreditation Actions (formerly Range of Commission Actions on Accreditation).
- Regional Accreditors
MSCHE is one of seven regional accreditors throughout the United States, each with a designated geographic region. Each of the accreditors applies its accreditation standards to member institutions within its region. The regional accreditors are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as “gatekeepers” for federal Title IV funds, meaning an institution’s students can receive federal financial aid only if that institution is accredited by a USDOE-recognized regional accreditor.
The Commission “rejects” a letter or report when its quality or substance is insufficient for the Commission to respond appropriately to the Commission’s concerns. The Commission requires the institution to resubmit the report and may, at its discretion, request a visit.
- Remove Accreditation
The Commission may remove an institution’s accreditation if it deems the institution to be in continued non-compliance despite previous Probationary or Show Cause status. No later than 30 days after each Commission meeting, the Commission provides written notice of final decisions to terminate candidacy or accreditation to the U.S. Secretary of Education, the appropriate state or other licensing or authorizing agency, and the appropriate accrediting agencies. For institutions that have appealed an adverse Commission action, the final action is distributed to these agencies only after the appeals process has been completed. For details on the Commission’s complete range of actions, read the MSCHE policy on Accreditation Actions (formerly Range of Commission Actions on Accreditation).
- Requirements of Affiliation
To be eligible for Candidacy status, Initial Accreditation, or Reaffirmation of Accreditation, an institution must demonstrate that it meets or continues to meet the 10 Requirements of Affiliation addition to the 14 Standards of Accreditation. The Requirements of Affiliation and the 14 Standards can be found in MSCHE’s Characteristics of Excellence .
The decennial evaluation of each MSCHE member institution consists of an extensive institutional self-study process that produces a written self-study report. This report and the Commission’s accreditation standards serve as the basis for an on-site evaluation by a team of peer evaluators. During self-study, the institution carefully considers its educational programs and services, with particular attention to student learning and achievement, and it determines how well these programs and services accomplish the institution’s goals, fulfill its mission, and meet the Commission’s standards. For further details, read the MSCHE publication, Self-Study: Creating a Useful Process and Report.
Most U.S. higher education institutions operate on an academic year divided into two equal semesters of 15-16 weeks’ duration, with a winter break of 2-3 weeks and a summer session of 10-12 weeks, plus additional shorter breaks.
- Semester Credit Hour/Semester Hour
A semester hour must include at least 30 clock hours of instruction. Source: 34 CFR 668.8. For a more complete description of the actual amount of academic work that goes into a single semester credit hour and how it is calculated, see MSCHE’s Degree and Credit Guidelines.
- Separately Accreditable Institutions
An educational site located in a region other than that of the home campus of the accredited institution must seek separate accreditation in the region where it exists if it functions independent of operational control of the home campus of the college or university. An educational site located within the Middle States region also must seek separate accreditation if it is operationally independent of the home campus of the college or university.
An educational site will be deemed operationally independent and accreditable by the host region when it meets such criteria as: (1) It has, under governing body policy, substantial financial and administrative independence from the home institution, including matters related to personnel; (2) It has a full-time chief administrative officer; (3) It is empowered, under governing body policy, to initiate and sustain its own academic programs; and (4) It has degree-granting authority in the state or jurisdiction where it is located. For further details, read the MSCHE policy on Separately Accreditable Institutions .
- Show Cause
An action by the Commission that directs an institution to inform the Commission why the institution’s accreditation should not be removed. For Show Cause, the Commission may require a substantive report and/or an on-site evaluation. For details on the Commission’s complete range of actions, read the MSCHE policy on Accreditation Actions (formerly Range of Commission Actions on Accreditation).
- Site Visits
Visits to an institution by one or more peer evaluators appointed by the Commission.
- Specialized Accreditors
In addition to the seven regional accreditors in the U.S., there are specialized accrediting organizations that focus on distinct fields (examples include Nursing, Engineering, Business, etc.).
- Standards for Accreditation
The 14 Middle States Standards of Accreditation appear in Characteristics of Excellence. The standards address student outcomes assessment, institutional effectiveness, financial planning, student services, and other areas.
- Statement of Accreditation Status (SAS)
For each candidate or accredited institution in its membership, the Commission maintains an official document of that institution’s current status and recent accreditation history. This Statement of Accreditation Status (SAS) is developed by the Commission staff based on Commission action and information provided by the institution through annual reporting. The Commission shares the SAS with the general public after the institution has been given notice regarding the Commission’s action. Each institution’s SAS is posted on the MSCHE website under “Institutions.”
- Substantive Change
When an institution is accredited, or its accreditation is reaffirmed, that action applies to conditions existing at the time of the Commission’s decision. The Commission requires that all institutions be reevaluated periodically because institutions are in continual processes of change. While the decision to modify an institution is an institutional prerogative and responsibility, the Commission is obligated to determine the effect of any substantive change on the quality, integrity, and effectiveness of the total institution.
The general areas of Substantive Change include significant changes in mission, goals, or objectives of an institution; distance learning, including instruction constituting at least 50 percent of a degree or certificate program that represents a significant departure, in terms of either the content or method of delivery, from those assessed when the institution was most recently evaluated; the offering of a higher degree or credential level; contractual agreements with an institution or organization not accredited by a federally recognized agency to provide any portion of a postsecondary educational program that leads to an academic or professional degree, certificate, or other recognized educational credential on behalf of the accredited institution; non-credit offerings that affect the institution’s mission; new sites or locations, including branch campuses, additional locations, and other instructional sites; rapid growth; mergers and other changes in the legal status, form of control, or ownership of the institution; site closure; institutional closure; or a change from clock hours to credit hours or a substantial change in the number of clock or credit hours required to successfully complete a program. For greater detail, read the MSCHE policy on Substantive Change.
- Supplemental Information Report
In the event that the Commission has determined that there is insufficient information to substantiate institutional compliance with one or more accreditation standards, the Commission will request a Supplemental Information Report. Such reports are intended to allow the institution to provide further information, not to give the institution time to formulate plans or initiate remedial actions. For details on the Commission’s complete range of actions, read the MSCHE policy on Accreditation Actions (formerly Range of Commission Actions on Accreditation).
- Suspend Accreditation
The Commission may act to Suspend Accreditation if, after accreditation has been continued for one year, it is not possible to conduct an appropriate review of the institution. This action is considered to be a procedural action and would result in Removal of Accreditation if the visit cannot be performed within the one year time frame. The institution maintains its status with the Commission during this period.
An action to Suspend Accreditation is followed by an Adverse Action if the circumstances restricting the Commission’s review of the institution are not changed. If circumstances change to allow the Commission’s review, the Commission may, at its discretion, require resubmission or revision of any reports on which the review would be based. For details on the Commission’s complete range of actions, read the MSCHE policy on Accreditation Actions (formerly Range of Commission Actions on Accreditation).
A syllabus describes how a course will be taught, including the planned sequence of content, materials, activities, and assignments. A syllabus typically will also include a description of grading and attendance policies for the course.
- Synchronous Learning
Often used in descriptions of distance education, this term can also be used to describe a traditional classroom setting. In a Synchronous Learning environment, the instructor and students interact in “real” time, whether in a classroom or via distance education through the Internet or videoconferencing.
A process whereby an institution which plans to close or which has had its accreditation removed by Middle States develops a formal plan that enables currently enrolled students to complete their degree requirements, either at the same or another institution.
The employment status of a faculty or staff member whose employment is not subject to termination except under specified circumstances.
The moving of college credits from one institution to another. Most commonly, a student will transfer after graduation from one institution into a program at another institution to earn a more advanced degree.
- Transfer Articulation
Also known as Articulation, this process involves cooperation between two or more higher education institutions to match courses and facilitate the transfer of students’ credits from one college or university to another.
This is a generic term that refers to any postsecondary educational institution that is eligible for accreditation or is already accredited by MSCHE. It is a synonym for “institution.”
The Vision Statement accompanies MSCHE’s Mission Statement, and describes what the Commission aspires to be, serving as a guiding light for all of what the Commission does. The MSCHE Vision Statement is as follows: The Middle States Commission on Higher Education aspires to be the preeminent resource for institutions of higher education striving to achieve excellence in fulfilling their missions. It also intends, through voluntary assessment and adherence to high standards for student learning outcomes and operational behavior, to assure higher education’s publics that its accredited institutions are fulfilling their stated purposes and addressing the publics’ expectations.
The Commission acts to Warn an institution that its accreditation may be in jeopardy when the institution is not in compliance with one or more of the Commission standards and a follow-up report (the Monitoring Report) is required to demonstrate that the institution has made appropriate improvements to bring itself into compliance.
Warning indicates that the Commission believes that, although the institution is out of compliance, the institution has the capacity to make appropriate improvements within a reasonable period of time, and the institution has the capacity to sustain itself. For details on the Commission’s complete range of actions, read the MSCHE policy on Accreditation Actions (formerly Range of Commission Actions on Accreditation).
- Week of Instructional Time
An institution provides one week of instructional time in an academic program during any consecutive seven-day period that the institution provides at least one day of regularly scheduled instruction or examinations, or, after the last scheduled day of classes for a term or payment period, at least one day of study for final examinations. Instructional time does not include any vacation periods, homework, or periods of orientation or counseling.
Edited version of “Glossary of Higher Education and Accreditation Terms” published by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education for ALO Orientation, accessed Feb. 25, 2014.
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