The Almighty Important Accreditation Process
by Taylor Synclair Goethe | published May. 9th, 2017
RIT has recently undergone an accreditation peer review process. I know what you’re thinking — “Whatever, who cares?" Well, you should, because RIT maintaining its accredited status or not is the difference between your degree getting you a job and being worth diddly squat.
According to the online ERIC Thesaurus, accreditation is a process of validation in which colleges, universities and other institutions of higher learning are evaluated. The keyword here is “validation” which means that the accreditation process decides whether RIT qualifies as a university or not.
The main reason why Trump University was sued for fraud was because of their use of the word “university” without undergoing the proper accreditation process. Although it isn’t technically illegal for a school to operate without accreditation, most institutions that don’t are forced to close down.
“This is because the school (without accreditation) will no longer be eligible to receive federal and state financial aid, which is a significant source of funding for many schools,” according to OnlineCourses.com.
Dr. Anthony G. Collins is the president of Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., and he is also the chair of RIT’s Evaluation Team. This is Collins' sixth time serving as a chair for an evaluation team. A benefit of the accreditation process is that it is peer-reviewed, which means that other academic professionals are reviewing the school.
“You wouldn’t want a professional accreditor doing the evaluations. No one would have experience being president of a university or dean ... You want to ask the people whose daily jobs are the equivalent of what they’re evaluating,” Collins said.
The accreditation of America’s universities is spread throughout various districts. The district that RIT is part of is called "Midstate." According to Collins, this encompasses the middle states which include Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The Midstate contains approximately 600 universities in which about 60 are evaluated each year.
However, the criteria for evaluation has recently changed. Usually, universities undergo evaluation every 10 years with a small review in between, after five years. Now, universities will be reviewed every eight years and the small review will be discontinued.
Collins remarked, “No university can afford to not be accredited." RIT reported a whopping 70 million dollar budget for research, most of which was through federal funding. Fortunately, the process for accreditation is described as a “pass/fail system." This means that universities aren’t graded during accreditation — rather, they are evaluated if they meet the bare bone standards, or at least are close enough to meet the standards in a reasonable time frame.
“If there’s a problem, the university does have a period of time to fix it but that’s not public knowledge,” Collins said.
The overall accreditation process is split into two segments: RIT provides a self-assessment report to the accreditation board, then the board arrives on campus to expand upon the report and conduct interviews. According to Collins, they check as much as possible.
“Literally everything. Everything from senior faculty to groups of students, mostly randomly selected and people who the evaluation team has identified is qualified to provide more in-depth explanations,” Collins said.
During the accreditation process, RIT aspires to meet seven standards of excellence:
- Mission and Goals
- Ethics and Integrity
- Design and Delivery of the Student Learning Experience
- Support of the Student Experience
- Educational Effectiveness Assessment
- Planning, Resources and Institutional Improvement
- Governance, Leadership and Administration
The results of the accreditation were announced in Ingle auditorium and live streamed to the rest of the RIT campus. The room was filled with professionals and RIT faculty anxious to hear the results.
Of course, RIT passed. This is a fantastic school.
“We have concluded that RIT does comply with all standards of accreditation,” Collins said.
President Bill Destler responded to the announcement that RIT will retain its accreditation status. “I think it’s gratifying. I found the evaluation of the self-study extremely helpful and it will benefit RIT as an institution moving forward.",
However, this is not to say that RIT passed with flying colors either. While RIT did meet all requirements of the seven standards, the university also identified13 areas of suggestions and 14 recommendations in the evaluation. Just as it sounds, suggestions are simply advice that can or cannot be regarded. However, recommendations are a little more serious. Although they technically qualify as standards, no immediate action needs to be done, but the review board does expect some progress to be made in the areas by the next evaluation in eight years.
Some areas with recommendations were:
Standard III: Recommend more attention to diversity in STEM fields.
“[We recommend that] RIT consults with individuals of deaf and hard-of-hearing in STEM fields ,” Collins said.
Standard IV: Recommend making pathways to graduation easier, especially for transfer students.
Standard VI: Be more thoughtful about changes in diversity in future planning.
“RIT should consider the intersections of future graduate programs and tenures for mixed faculty in the budget,” Collins explained.
Standard VII: Recommend being flexible to the new strategic plans of the new RIT president
President Destler provided his conclusion on how RIT’s standing with accreditation will be shaped, but incoming President Munson will have the final determination.
“The new president will want to have his own impact on the strategic plan ... deciding where he wants to put emphasis on,” President Destler said.
Overall, RIT has made positive moves, but with an incoming president, the structure and operations of the campus are subject to change. The student body will have to wait and see where the new president’s strategic plan will take RIT in the future.
Note: This update of the article corrects an earlier version with respect to there being one instead of two peer review processes, clarification of the fact that Collins was chair of the "Evaluation Team" and proper assignment of responsibility to RIT of the 14 recommendations and 13 suggestions discussed.