The Self-Study

The decennial evaluation 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 on-site evaluation by a team of peer evaluators.

Candidate institutions are evaluated in this way prior to the granting of initial accreditation. Newly accredited institutions are evaluated again five years after receiving initial accreditation, and long-accredited institutions are evaluated this way every 10 years.

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.

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 draft for discussion, and disseminates the final self-study report.

A broad cross-section of the campus community is expected to participate in the self-study process at each stage: in the steering committee, the working groups, and the campus-wide discussions.

The self-study report has two sets of audiences and two major purposes. The primary audience is the institution’s own community, and the secondary audience includes external (or public) constituencies.

The primary purpose of the self-study report is to advance institutional self-understanding and self-improvement. The self-study report, therefore, is most useful when it is analytical and forward-looking rather than descriptive or defensive, when it is used both to identify problems and to develop solutions to them, and when it identifies opportunities for growth and development. Because the decennial self-study is a major element in the life of an institution, it should be a useful activity, planned and executed carefully, and not simply a formal exercise. It will be most helpful if the institution implements and adapts self-assessment as a continuous process that supports its regular planning cycle.

The second purpose of the self-study is to demonstrate to external audiences, such as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, government regulatory agencies, and the public, that the institution meets the Commission’s standards for accreditation. Both the self-study report and the evaluation team report should be shared by the institution with its community. The Commission's accreditation decision, which follows the team visit, is available to the public as part of the “Statement of Accreditation Status” that the Commission publishes on its website for each of its members.

The self-study process and report must be meaningful and useful to the members of the institution and must produce evidence of compliance with accreditation standards. Balancing these two goals is the challenge of an effective self-study.

The institution is assisted throughout the process by a Commission staff member who is appointed as the liaison between the institution and the Commission.

--Adapted from “Self Study: Creating a Useful Process and Report, Second Edition,”
Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 2012