By Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D.
President of Misericordia University
What does regional accreditation mean for an institution of higher education? There is no doubting its level of importance in the realm of academia, as re-accreditation forces colleges and universities alike to examine themselves with an ultra-critical eye on the recent past, while it also acts as a guide for the future. In its truest essence, the internal review tells us where we have been and where we are going all the while being examined by an external team of peer educators.
For prospective students and their parents, accreditation acts as a so-called measuring stick that is intended to build public confidence. After all, a college degree may be the single, biggest investment a young person will make in their future. Accreditation can also be used to ensure colleges and universities are true to their stated mission and are measuring their successes and their failures, while striving to constantly improve.
The model for a high-quality education – whether it is in accounting, teacher education or physical therapy – is constantly evolving as technology, modes, deliverables and other important elements change with time.
Misericordia University successfully completed its own 10-year self-study and evaluation team accreditation review recently. The result is pleasing as we saw it as both an endorsement of our efforts and a challenge to continue to improve in the upcoming decade as we continue to grow and add innovative academic programs to our menu.
The regional accreditation process by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education is one where we ask our peers at other institutions to give us frank and open advice on how we can improve the output of our programs. I have been fortunate to participate as a member or chairperson of a visiting team at a wide variety of colleges and universities, ranging from community colleges to small private institutions to public universities. Several of my visits have been to overseas colleges and universities that seek to have standing as being on par with U.S. higher education.
Colleges and universities are held to a number of specific standards that evaluate both our institutional context, such as mission, planning, and resource allocation, and our educational effectiveness. The institutional context helps us to identify our internal strengths and weaknesses, and then align them with the external opportunities and challenges. For example, we know that the number of teenagers preparing to go to college has dropped in recent years – especially in northeastern Pennsylvania.
At Misericordia, we have worked to make our programs relevant to both traditional students who are completing high school and to returning adult students. More than one-fourth of our students are now adults, many of whom are returning to complete a degree or improve credentials for career advancement.
The 10-year cycle of developing a self-study document and hosting an external peer reviewer team is not the only process Misericordia University participates in to ensure quality and effectiveness of our programs. A significant number of our programs, including those in business, education and the health sciences, are accredited separately through their own individual professional organizations. More than one-half of our students graduate with a degree that is accredited in the profession. All of our students, of course, graduate with a degree that holds regional accreditation.
The process of accreditation takes roughly two years of preparation, culminating in preparation of a lengthy self-study with hundreds of exhibits that are reviewed by the visiting team. While it is a challenging experience, we believe that it provides the best route for higher education to continually improve in a way that gives the public confidence that we are accomplishing our educational mission.
Misericordia University is proud to be a part of the outstanding array of accredited higher education institutions serving the residents and communities of northeastern Pennsylvania now and well into the future.
Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D., is president of Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa. Misericordia University ranks in the top tier of the Best Regional Universities – North category of U.S. News and World Report's 2014 edition of Best Colleges and was designated a 2014 Best Northeastern College by the Princeton Review.