Financial aid, grants and transfers: All are devices used by students and faculty which depend on accreditation, an eight-year process beginning this spring for Binghamton University.
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) is one of seven regional commissions in the United States that can grant accreditation to a university. This process for BU will be led by Ellie Fogarty, vice president of institutional field relations for the MSCHE, who was a liaison for BU’s latest accreditation in 2010. Since 2014, in order to uphold innovation to constantly support institutions’ improvement, the Commission’s standards have been revised to place a bigger emphasis on the learning experience of students in a university.
The process begins with a self-study led by three co-chairs of the BU steering committee, including Michael McGoff, senior vice provost and chief financial officer for BU, Pamela Smart, an associate professor of art history and anthropology and Nasrin Fatima, accreditation liaison officer and associate provost for institutional research, effectiveness and planning.
Brian Kirschner, director for communications and public relations for the MSCHE, said the self-study aims to allow administrators to honestly evaluate their progress and areas of improvement.
“It usually takes about two years from when an institution is invited to what we call the ‘self-study institute,’ which Binghamton attended this fall,” Kirschner said. “The self-study evaluation is a process where we are asking institutions to look for opportunities for improvement and innovation, and it’s an opportunity for self-reflection — to evaluate themselves and look for those areas.”
The steering committees must employ tasks which involve regular meetings, collecting information and data to analyze, using appropriate tools to check the University’s priorities and review the overall standards for accreditations while looking at the University’s current standard. After the self-study report is handed to the MSCHE, a peer review is conducted, which allows the commission to ask for clarification or context on data where needed. By the end of the eight years, the commission decides whether the University is in compliance.
“The principal reasons that we want to keep our accreditation status [is] because if we are not an accredited institution, we will not have any access to the federal grant money for faculty research or any financial aid for our students,” Fatima wrote in an email. “Imagine faculty with no research grants or students with no access to financial aid. Also, our students’ credits will be extremely difficult to transfer to an accredited institution, if not impossible.”
BU was initially accredited in 1952 and has gone through several reaffirmations of accreditation since then. Fatima said the likelihood of the University losing its accreditation is slim.
“Based on my  years of experiences with accreditation (including serving as evaluator for other institutions), I can confidently say that there is absolutely no risk that Binghamton will not get reaccredited,” Fatima wrote. “We have an excellent plan, we have the right people to execute it. We have been systematically doing assessment, and using the assessment results for continuous improvement. Now, all we have to do is to tell our story.”