University receives accreditation

It is good to know that our 10th-highest tuition in the country is not going to waste. Carnegie Mellon was reaccredited last month by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, confirming that the university meets the commission’s standards for accreditation.

For a university to be re-accredited, there are 14 standards that must be fulfilled, according to Carnegie Mellon’s self-study report. These include topics such as Planning and Resources, Student Admissions and Retention, Educational Offerings, and Leadership and Governance. Accreditation is a process that occurs every 10 years; much of the process involves a self-study, which takes about two and a half years and leads up to a visit by the Middle States Commission, according to Michael Murphy, associate vice president.

This self-evaluation focuses on only a subset of the 14 accreditation standards, although there must be documentation provided which shows Carnegie Mellon is still meeting the remainder of the standards, according to the study.

“The remaining areas that we proposed for self-study were primarily consistent with the national focus on issues of assessment, including Planning, Resource Allocation, Institutional Renewal, Institutional Resources, Institutional Assessment, and Assessment of Student Learning. The other area of review was General Education, in part because our general education program is distinct within each our individual colleges and schools,” Murphy stated.

In addition to reviewing the self-study, the commission also met with students at an opening dinner and open meeting, which all students were invited to attend.

“The members of the team just couldn’t say enough about how bright and engaged our students are — and mature and funny and enjoyable to be with — they were really blown away by that experience,” Murphy said.

The commission discussed suggestions for improving Carnegie Mellon, many of which mirrored the recommendations that Carnegie Mellon mentioned in its self-study, Murphy said.

The study suggested that the university could more clearly articulate its goal for students in all courses and programs, an idea that the commission agreed with. Murphy explained that the provost, Carnegie Mellon’s senior academic administrator Mark Kamlet, recently established a University Educational Task Force to work toward this goal.

The commission also recommended that Carnegie Mellon should look into expanding its general education initiatives. Specifically, the commission encouraged programs that develop writing skills, in addition to improving science and quantitative reasoning requirements in “non-science” disciplines, according to Murphy.

“The university should continue its vigorous self-examination of the relationship of liberal and professional education, and continue to review the extent to which our colleges, schools, and major programs integrate the general education component,” the Middle States report said.

Additionally, the commission stressed the importance of a diverse and active student involvement in extracurricular activities.

“The university should expand student and faculty participation in the development of metacurricular programs (e.g., festivals, media, library events, guest speakers and artists), enhancing the intellectual and artistic richness of campus life for the extended university community,” the report said.

In addition to making suggestions for future changes, the commission also praised a number of aspects of the university.

The commission made no recommendations at all in the areas of institutional leadership and planning, and also supported the distinct way general education is developed within the curricula of each of the colleges and schools, Murphy said.

A number of changes have been made since the last accreditation visit in 1998.

One of the greatest changes that can be seen clearly on campus is the rise in diversity at Carnegie Mellon. Murphy explained that the commission raised issues of diversity during the last visit, and that it has been a very important focus area for President Jared L. Cohon throughout his time at the university.

Other changes include enhancements in library services, leadership development, research in critical areas, and regional impact both economically and in community outreach.

“I think it’s really great to see all the positive changes made at Carnegie Mellon since 1998, and I hope that the latest visit by the commission helps the university to continue to grow,” stated Simona Saracco, a sophomore materials science and engineering major.

Currently, Carnegie Mellon is working on its 2008 strategic plan process. A strategic plan is determined after each accreditation every 10 years to allow the university to set goals and better itself in light of its self-study, the commission’s suggestions, and changes since the last plan. April will be a big month filled with campus meetings that all students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to attend so that everyone can be involved in the strategic planning process.