Middle States Accreditation FAQs
*Adapted from The University of Scranton.
Visit the MSCHE web site for more information about these and other accreditation topics.
“Middle States” is shorthand for the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), one of seven regional accreditors recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. MSCHE is a non-governmental membership association that accredits more than 500 colleges & universities.
Accreditation is an assurance to the public that an academic institution meets acceptable levels of performance on established standards and requirements.
Regional accreditation is one of several types of accreditation recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. This level of accreditation is organized by geographic regions across the U.S., and accredits institutions as a whole, including its educational programs and curricula, student achievement, faculty, facilities and equipment, student support services, recruiting and admissions practices, the institution’s financial condition, administrative effectiveness, governing boards, among other aspects.
There are six regions within the United States with the Middle States region including institutions in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and other geographic areas in which the Commission conducts accrediting activities. Regional accreditation differs from national accreditation, which is not organized geographically, and typically accredits technical and for-profit institutions, and specialized accreditation, which accredits specific academic programs within institutions. Although specialized and regional accreditation are separate, by law they must communicate institutional status with one another.
The University has held accreditation through Middle States since 1842.
In addition to serving as an indicator of institutional quality, maintaining accreditation is necessary for institutions to gain access to Title IV federal financial aid funding. Title IV is part of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (as amended), the law that regulates many aspects of U.S. higher education activities.
Accreditation is also often a baseline criterion for transferring credit from one institution to another. Many employers look for degrees from accredited institutions, and some will only offer educational benefits to employees if they are seeking education through an accredited institution. State governments may require that an institution is regionally accredited in order for students to access state funds, and some require that students sitting for certain placement or credentialing examinations are coming from accredited institutions.
Once an institution achieves initial accreditation through a robust candidacy process, accreditation status is determined at key points in the accreditation cycle. This cycle is generally an eight to 10-year period beginning and ending with a comprehensive self- study, a mid-point review, annual reporting, and sometimes through other interim progress reports, as required by the accreditor.
In addition to these regular milestones, when and if an institution wishes to offer certain types of new programs, degree levels, modes of delivery, or new sites or locations for the delivery of existing programs, they may be required to complete a proposal for Substantive Change. These proposals serve as the means through which institutions demonstrate the quality of these planned offerings and ensure that they are covered under the scope of the institution’s accreditation. Middle States must approve proposals prior to the launch of the program or initiative. Commission staff also monitor institutions to identify any special circumstances that may require additional evaluation or reporting.
In addition to these activities, institutions must comply with a number of policies that define good practice shared by member institutions and align their activities with federal standards and definitions, such as such as transfer of credit, contractual arrangements for educational services, and student identity verification.
Self-study is the foundation of Middle States accreditation, and peer-review is its cornerstone. The self-study process gathers together individuals from across the college or university to prepare a self-study report. Within this document (approximately 100 pages) institutions engage in intensive self-reflection, examining and evaluating their programs, services, and operations. The report articulates the institutions’ strengths and ability to meet—through documented evidence—MSCHE standards in the context of the institution’s mission and goals. In addition to affirming compliance with these standards, institutions make recommendations for self-improvement.
Once the self-study report has been reviewed and affirmed by the institution and its leadership, it is submitted to the Middle States Commission by the Accreditation Liaison Officer (ALO). Included within the self-study report is a compliance report, documenting those policies and procedures in place that address selected requirements of affiliation and accreditation-relevant federal legislation.
The self-study report is reviewed by a team of peer reviewers selected by MSCHE: faculty, staff, and administrators from other MSCHE-member institutions who have expertise in one or more subject areas. This peer team visits the campus about six weeks after receiving the report and engages in discussions with members of the university community to consider and validate its findings. The team then prepares a Peer Review Report of its own, which summarizes its key findings related to the institution’s compliance with MSCHE standards and may make recommendations or suggestions of its own to the institution. The Middle States Commission then reviews this Peer Review Report, and the institution’s own Self-Study and Compliance reports. At this time, the institution’s accreditation status is determined. The commission may require the institution to engage in follow-up reporting on one or more standards if additional work is needed.
There are seven standards:
- Standard 1: Mission & Goals
- Standard 2: Ethics & Integrity
- Standard 3: Design and Delivery of the Student Learning Experience
- Standard 4: Support of the Student Experience
- Standard 5: Educational Effectiveness Assessment
- Standard 6: Planning, Resources & Institutional Improvement
- Standard 7: Governance, Leadership & Administration
Within each standard are fundamental elements of good practice intended to guide the institution in realizing its mission and goals.
Within the Middle States region, the President of the institution is its official member. However, the President must assign an ALO to serve as the official contact for the institution. Among other duties, the ALO is responsible for overseeing accreditation operations and ensuring that compliance with Middle States standards and policies is addressed through necessary channels. The ALO works closely with the institution’s assigned Middle States Vice President to navigate matters of relevance to the institution’s accreditation.
Villanova University’s ALO is James F. Trainer, PhD, Associate Vice President and Executive Director for the Office of Planning & Institutional Research (OPIR). Stephen A. Sheridan, Jr., Director for Accountability, Accreditation & Assessment Services, also a member of OPIR, supports Dr. Trainer by providing day-to-day management of the Middle States accreditation processes. Contact Dr. Trainer or Mr. Sheridan for more information, questions about Middle States accreditation, or Villanova’s status.