Once an institution is initially accredited1 by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE or Middle States), it then engages in a ongoing cycle of review to retain its accredited status. The major review process--also known as a reaccreditation process--is the Self-Study, described below. Running in parallel to the Self-Study process is the Verification of Compliance (VoC) process, a federally-driven process in which peer evaluators must affirm that institutions are meeting certain federal requirements. The VoC process is described below.
Colleges and universities accredited by MSCHE must also annually file an Institutional Profile (IP) in the spring of each year. After a third consecutive IP submission subsequent to its last Self-Study, colleges and universities undergo an off-site Mid-point Peer Review (MPP). The IP and the MPP are also described below.
Finally, institutions submit Substantive Change Requests to the Commission for any new changes planned to take effect subsequent to the institution's last reaccreditation review. Please see the brief description below.
Every ten years (following the 2017-2018 academic year, the cycle will be every eight years), the university engages in a significant institutional self-study that produces a comprehensive written report addressing each of Middle States' seven accreditation standards. The report, and materials collected during the self-study process, serve as the basis for evaluation by a team of external peer reviewers and the Commission. Carnegie Mellon University has used the self-study as an opportunity to engage faculty and staff in extensive analysis of the university's strengths and areas for improvement. Analysis from the 2008 Self-Study laid groundwork for the university's 2008 Strategic Plan process. The 2018 Self-Study is being leveraged, where appropriate, to support implementation of the 2025 Strategic Plan.
The Self-Study process is a significant undertaking, typically taking two years from start to finish. The process culminates with a three-day on-campus visit by a team of external peer evaluators. The evaluation team meets with administration, faculty, staff, students, and members of the Board of Trustees, and reviews materials and reports gathered during the Self-Study process. At the conclusion of the three-day visit, the team makes a recommendation to the Commission regarding the university's accreditation status.
Verification of Compliance
MSCHE, as a federally recognized accreditor, is obligated to assure that its institutions meet accreditation-relevant federal regulations. Currently, institutions must demonstrate that they meet federal requirements regarding (1) student identity verification in distance education, (2) transfer of credit policies and articulation agreements, (3) Title IV (federal financial aid) program responsibilities, (4) institutional records of student complaints, (5) required information for students and the public, (6) standing with state and other accrediting agencies, (7) contractual relationships, (8) assignment of credit hours.
Annual Institutional Profile
Each spring, the university is required to submit data on enrollment, faculty, finances, and other activities or significant changes. The IP enables Commission staff to monitor institutional compliance with selected aspects of accreditation standards, assists Commission staff in developing region-wide aggregate data (available to the public), provides the basis for dues assessment, and allows Commission staff to update the on-line directory of accredited institutions. The Assistant Director of Institutional Research and Analysis leads and manages the IP data collection process and submits CMU's final report to the Commission.
Mid-point Peer Review
Voted by MSCHE institutions (including CMU) to replace the former Periodic Review Report (PRR) process, the MPP requires no extra effort from universities and colleges. A small panel of peer evaluators engage in an off-site review of an institution's accumulated reports (i.e., IPs, any follow-up reporting required by the Commission as a result of a Self-Study Process) and submits recommendations to the Commission regarding the institution's ongoing accreditation status. Institutions that fully meet accreditation requirements receive letters from the Commission indicating that fact, as well as a copies of the peer evaluators' reports. Institutions not meeting accreditation requirements will receive letters from the Commission requiring follow-up actions.
Accreditation or reaccreditation actions by Middle States apply to conditions existing at the institution at the time of the Commission's review. As such, the university must seek approval from the Commission regarding potential changes intended to occur subsequent to an accreditation or reaccreditation decision. Such changes include the establishment of a new additional location or branch campus, the planned closure of an additional location or branch campus, the introduction of courses or programs not related to existing offerings, the initiation or expansion of distance education, contractual agreements, institutional mergers, changes in mission, and changes in legal status. The Commission is obligated to determine the effect such changes may have on the quality, integrity, and effectiveness of the university. Per federal regulations, universities are required to seek prior approval of a plan for a substantive change; failure to do so puts an institution's accreditation and federal financial aid eligibility at risk.
1Carnegie Mellon was first accredited in 1921.