Boston College is at the approximate halfway point of its reaccreditation effort, finishing up a self-study report in preparation for an upcoming visit by a delegation of educators to complete the process.

The reaccreditation is conducted every 10 years by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges’ Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (CIHE), which will send a committee of educators to BC in March of next year. The CIHE delegation – chaired by former University of Miami President Donna Shalala – will review BC’s self-study and spend three days on campus interviewing members of the BC community and examining supporting documents.

The BC self-study will address key issues and topics in academics, student life, organizational effectiveness and other areas, and also describe four areas of particular interest to Boston College: student formation, the renewal of the core curriculum, integrated science, and strategic planning.

Both the self-study and visiting committee report will be integral to the CIHE decision on BC’s accreditation status.  Good standing in a regional accreditation association is a requirement for participation in federal programs that support higher education.

While BC is in good shape to renew its accreditation, administrators overseeing the self-study note a significant change in the process, with a focus less on the resources a college or university devotes to its programs, and more on the outcomes that result. 

These new standards for assessment and reporting reflect a trend toward increased scrutiny and accountability in higher education, administrators say, driven by such issues as the rising cost of college and the growth of for-profit education.

“It’s a very different environment for reaccreditation,” said Special Assistant to the President Robert Newton, who is co-chair, with Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies Associate Director Seth Meehan, of the University committee producing the self-study. 

“In the past, the CIHE committee would see if you had the necessary support and resources to accomplish what you laid out in the self-study,” explained Newton, who chaired BC’s previous three self-studies. “But now it’s not enough to describe what you’re doing; you have to offer evidence to show how effective it is, and how it helps BC to fulfill its mission and meet its goals.”

For example, he said, in previous reaccreditation self-studies, a college or university would describe its undergraduate economics program by listing the courses in the major and the number of faculty teaching the major, among other quantitative details.

“Now, CIHE wants you to address questions like, ‘What will an economics major know or be able to do when he or she graduates? How does the college or university make sure the student meets the requirements for the major? Where does economics fit in with the institutional mission?’ That information is then supposed to be reflected in your planning and allocation of resources.”  

BC began the reaccreditation process during the spring semester, with the appointment of a steering committee to direct the self-study, and the formation of nine working groups to draft different parts of the report. The steering committee is currently reviewing and editing these components towards a final draft.

This reaccreditation process also reflects the rapid growth of electronic media in academia during the past decade, Newton said. With the new emphasis on outcomes necessitating more documentation, the self-study will be presented in digital form, with links to supporting information and details.

“Obviously, this has entailed a change in the way we conceived and organized the self-study,” said Newton. 

Although the self-study requires considerable coordination, Newton said the University has always viewed the reaccreditation process as an opportunity to receive collegial advice from a group of outside experts on its practices and performances in key areas. This one is no exception, he said.

“The University launched its Strategic Planning Initiative at around the same time we began the self-study, so these past several months have been a period in which the BC community has been taking a close look at itself – and there are clearly some common threads between the USPI and the self-study. It is certainly possible for one process to inform the other.”    

—Sean Smith | News & Public Affairs