FSU up for NEASC re-accreditation

The FSU administration will submit a self-study document early in the spring 2014 semester to the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (CIHE), which will evaluate the university for re-accreditation.

The CIHE is the “regional accrediting body” for the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and is in charge of evaluating institutions for their “current state of educational effectiveness,” according to cihe.neasc.org.

According to Interim President Robert Martin, the accreditation process happens every ten years. “The federal government mandates that you be accredited in order to receive federal funds,” such as financial aid, he said.

Steering committee co-chairs of the accreditation process, Associate Vice President for Accademic Affairs Ellen Zimmerman and English Department Chair Elaine Beilin, have recently completed editing a second draft of the 100-page document.

According to Zimmerman, the information gathering took place in the 2011-12 school year and the writing of the document began in 2012-13 school year.

According to Beilin, a final version of the document will be completed and available to everyone on campus to read and comment on in January. The document will then be submitted to the CIHE in February “after we have absorbed people’s comments and made changes,” Beilin said.

A three-person site team which will have read the submitted document will come to campus March 30 through April 1. The site team will talk to students, faculty and administrators to “try and get a sense of how the document represents us … so they can write their accreditation report,” Beilin said.

The document includes eleven standards: mission and purposes, planning and evaluation, organization and governance, academic programs, faculty, students, library information technology, physical and technological resources, financial resources, public disclosure, and integrity.

Beilin said, CIHE “gives us a book which lays out all the elements we have to consider when assessing each of these standards. The standards essentially cover all aspects of the university.”

According to cihe.neasc.org, each one of the standards “articulates a dimension of institutional quality. In applying the Standards, the Commission assesses and makes a determination about the effectiveness of the institution as a whole.”

According to Beilin, each standard is broken into three parts: first, a description of what the university does; second, an appraisal explaining what the university does well and what needs to be improved; lastly, a projection of what the university commits to doing to address both its strengths and weaknesses.

One of the biggest challenges, Zimmerman said, is to condense the document to 100 pages. “There’s so much to say. We’re doing so much, students are doing so many things, faculty are doing so many things. … We are trying to tell the great story about the things we are doing and … it’s hard to get it into so many pages.”

Beilin said, “It is the kind of document that invites as wide a readership as possible because we want it to be truly representative of the whole campus.”

According to Zimmerman, each standard has a task force of faculty with two co-chairs. Each committee produces a draft of its standard which the co-chairs edit and submit to Beilin and Zimmerman. These drafts were submitted last June.

“We have made our second draft now, which we will send out to the co-chairs of the task forces to get some feedback,” Zimmerman said. “Once we get those together, we will make another draft which we will send to the whole campus for comment.”

Martin said this is a “useful process to be asked periodically to step back and take a look at yourself and to make an assessment about how it stands up to some basic standards or expectations of operation.”

The self-study is helpful, Beilin said. “The [NEASC] commission’s job is to help us see ourselves clearly and objectively.”

The purpose of this document is to “tell a story,” Beilin added. “What story are we telling about what we do and how we do it? What makes us tick at Framingham State? What are our best characteristics and what are the things we need to work on and improve?”

Martin said, “It is really helpful to have the opportunity to hear from other people who aren’t as close to the action and to get their assessment of how things are going [at FSU].”

Martin said this document is not something that “sits on the shelf. … It’s actually guiding people in terms of how we budget and what kinds of initiatives we fund.”

The main goal of the accredidation process, Martin said, is assessment and evaluation – determining that “in fact you do what you say you’re doing.”

One of FSU’s strengths, both Zimmerman and Beilin said, is the collaboration between students and faculty.

For example, “the library and IT services have developed this collaboration … in which staff and student workers … encourage each other to be innovative. They have retreats and do all kinds of problem solving. That’s a really great example of how two divisions come together,” Beilin said.

Zimmerman said, “Students and faculty do research together, they attend conferences together and sometimes publish together. Learning goes on together, rather than the faculty member just lecturing and the student taking notes. I think that’s one of the strengths of the university.”

Communication is an aspect of the university that Beilin recognizes needs to be improved. “We’ve noticed things like we need people to make sure our website is updated regularly. That’s one of the strengths of NEASC – that you find things that need updating and fixing, and you fix them.”

Senior economics major Robert Herbison said, “The degrees we offer are restrictive. [FSU] should invest more in expanding the current degree programs and less in creating new ones. The good thing about the small Massachusetts universities is that they all have niche specialties.  We should embrace our specialties because we will never be able to cover the breadth of Amherst’s offerings.”

Senior elementary education major Erin McConville said, “Every professor I’ve ever had, you can tell they care about their job and their students. The amount of work they put into these semesters is incredible. Overall, no matter what, I do still love this school. You are never going to find a campus that’s perfect without a few little flaws.”

Senior English major Caitlin Carley said, “I like the school’s drive become a more green campus.”

Criminology major Morgan Astra said “I like the community feel that the school seems to try and give us. Although, I feel …  like the dry campus and tobacco free policies kind of make it harder to have communal good times on campus.”

Senior history major Larry Luizzo said, “FSU provides a quality education by keeping the student/professor ratio low, so that we are able to connect with our professors on a personal level. With that said, as the student population increases, the number of faculty members also needs to increase in order to maintain that personal and quality education. With the influx in the student population, more students require additional services to meet their needs as students.

Senior business major Parisa Bonvan said, the university should “use the money that we have been getting from the increase in students over the years toward better events, so commuters and residents have an increased chance to get to know each other, especially for freshmen.”

Beilin said, “This is a place where there is all kinds of creative activity going on. It’s a wonderful beehive of activity. That will definitely come out of the self study.”

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