"Using Self Study to Drive Improvement"

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January 2004


  • Robert Secor, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs
  • Robert Pangborn, Associate Dean, College of Engineering
  • Ginger Breon, Director of Administration and Information Services, Smeal College of Business Administration

Penn State maintains institutional level accreditation and program level accreditation for a variety of reasons, one of which is compliance. So what is the value of accreditation beyond compliance? All three panelists at the January 16, 2004 session of the Quality Advocates’ Network agreed that self-study is the most important part of the accreditation process.

Bob Secor highlighted Penn State’s institutional level accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (Middle States). The current institutional level self-study has been ongoing since last year, and when a draft is available it will be circulated widely to stakeholders before site visits occur this fall and next spring. Subcommittees are currently conducting studies of Penn State’s outcomes as compared with the 14 Standards for Accreditation, with special emphasis on learning outcomes. William Kirwan, Chancellor, University System of Maryland, will chair the Middle States peer review team.

The College of Engineering is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), and Rob Pangborn shared details of how the ABET criteria have stimulated ongoing assessment of learning outcomes in the college. ABET criteria call for a system of ongoing evaluation that demonstrates achievement of educational objectives (the way students perform in the workplace), as well as program outcomes (what students are expected to be able to do when they graduate). This entails, among other things, a survey of alumni and their supervisors to determine how well prepared their graduates are and what they’re actually doing in the workplace. A current challenge in the College of Engineering is the measurement of general education program outcomes, i.e., what Engineering students are learning in the courses they take to meet Gen Ed requirements. The College has found a Leonhard Center Faculty Advisory Board to be particularly useful as a mechanism for regular faculty dialogue and exchange.

Ginger Breon described the accreditation of The Smeal College of Business by the American Association of Colleges and Schools of Business (AACSB). Their ten year “Maintenance” visit by AACSB was held in December and was an “uneventful event” due to the fact that the College regularly collects the data reviewed by AACSB and uses the data to conduct program renewals as well as new program development.

In summary, both program level and institutional level accreditation criteria are valued for their use in self-study efforts that drive improvement. You can view a PDF file with details of Rob Pangborn’s ABET improvement presentation. [PDF] The session was videotaped, and that tape will be available at this address soon.

The Quality Advocates Network meets several times each semester to share ideas and examples of improvement and change. To join the Quality Advocates Network mailing list or to learn more about the meetings scheduled, contact the staff at psupia@psu.edu.

The Quality Advocates Network is open to all Penn State faculty, staff, administrators, and students.