August 18, 2019 | 83° F

Rutgers will undergo its first accreditation in 10 years

Photo by Declan Intindola |

The last time Rutgers was accredited, former President Barack Obama was in office — that was in 2008. All colleges undergo an accreditation process every 10 years and its now once again time for Rutgers to meet these standards.

The last time Rutgers was reaccredited in 2008, there was a different president both in the White House and in Old Queens. This week, a major step was taken in this decennial cycle to make sure that Rutgers is once again reaccredited come June.

In an email sent on March 8, University President Robert L. Barchi welcomed a team of peer reviewers from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), who visited this week and are drafting a report in what is one step of an extensive reaccreditation process.

“Accreditation is a form of consumer protection, assuring the public and governmental agencies that Rutgers meets certain standards of quality and operates within a culture of continuous assessment and improvement,” Barchi said in the email. “Just as important, Rutgers must be accredited in order for our students to receive federal financial aid and benefit from other federal funding programs.”

The accrediting is done and overseen by MSCHE. Idna Corbett, the liaison to Rutgers and vice president of MSCHE, said the agency is 1 of 6 regional accreditors that are approved by the U.S. Department of Higher Education to credit higher-education institutions.

MSCHE specifically deals with schools in Delaware, Washington, D.C., Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, she said.

“Our job is to assist the institutions and also provide the means for the institutions to be evaluated,” Corbett said. “To make sure that they are being compliant with each of the seven standards for our commission.”

Every university undergoes this process once every 10 years. The commission looks at seven standards of accreditation and 15 requirements of affiliation that accredited institutions are expected to comply with, which are outlined in MSCHE's Standards for Accreditation and Requirements of Affiliation document.

Among those requirements, starting on page two of the document, are measures that require authorization or licensing for a college to operate as a postsecondary educational institution. To award postsecondary degrees, it must have students actively enrolled in its degree programs and a requirement that it must have an approved mission statement and related goals, according to the document.

The seven standards begin on page four and include criteria for each. The first states that the institution’s mission “defines its purpose within the context of higher education, the students it serves and what it intends to accomplish,” according to the document.

Corbett broke down how MSCHE considers these requirements for a university by describing it as a four-part process. 

Step one is a self-study report done by the school, step two is assembling a team of peers to review the school, step three includes a site visit and that team developing a report of its findings and the final step is MSCHE meeting and making a decision, she said.

The Self-Study Report was headed the by co-chairs of a 25-member steering committee, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Barbara Lee and Professor in the Department of Plant Biology Ann Gould. The self-study process started in the summer of 2015, Lee said.

She said the committee met with students, faculty and the commission to get feedback and develop the report. The committee divided into sub-committees — each focused on 1 of the 7 standards of accreditation. 

Lee said that the committee worked on the report until it was finalized in the end of 2017.

Since the University's last accreditation, Barchi was appointed University president on Sept. 1, 2012, Rutgers—New Brunswick joined the Big Ten in 2013 and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) became a part of Rutgers in a major 2013 merger, according to the report’s executive summary.

Lee and Gould both said the UMDNJ merger was one of the biggest changes Rutgers saw.

Step two is putting together the peer-review team. Corbett said the chosen ones are all volunteers. The commission requires that people who want to volunteer sign up a minimum of one year in advance, and then undergo orientation and training before becoming part of the volunteer pool.

“The teams that are coming to visit Rutgers come from similar universities,” she said.

When schools are up to be reaccredited, the commission looks at its volunteer pool and selects people who have had experiences in a similar setting, she said. Rutgers is a large school so someone from a smaller-sized school would not be chosen to review Rutgers.

Step three happened this week.

Barchi said in his email that “In the next step of the process, a nine-member peer review team, using the Self-Study Report as the basis for its review, will be visiting the entire University from Monday, March 19 through Thursday, March 22. The team will provide us with its initial report prior to leaving Rutgers.”

Corbett said the report developed by the team is also submitted to the commission for review, which leads into the final step — a decision on whether an institution is accredited. 

This decision is important for two main reasons, she said. One being it provides an opportunity for review and to look for ways to improve, and the other that students who attend an accredited school are eligible to receive federal financial aid.

For Rutgers, this decision will be made in June following a final, formal review by MSCHE, according to the email. 

“While we fully expect to be accredited, the Commission has the options to require additional information; postpone their decision; give the University a warning; put us on probation; or ask us to show cause why accreditation should not be withdrawn,” Barchi said. “I will be notifying the entire Rutgers community of the Commission’s decision once we receive it.”

Ryan Stiesi

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