On the heels of recent alterations to Penn’s calendar for the 2013-14 academic year, the University’s on-the-horizon reaccreditation review is once again prompting changes for undergraduates.
Over the next two years, Provost Vince Price will be leading Penn in a large-scale internal review of its undergraduate education. The review — which Price has already begun preparing for — represents the “self-study” phase of Penn’s reaccreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and will be chaired by Vice Provost for Education Andrew Binns.
Middle States is one of eight regional accrediting organizations for higher education institutions recognized by the United States Department of Education.
Penn, which was last accredited in the 2003-04 school year, is next up for reaccreditation in 2013-14. The University’s impending reaccreditation review was the driving force behind its decision to begin fall classes in August 2013 — the earliest start date since 1974.
So far, Price has identified six key priorities to be examined by individual working groups at Penn in its reaccreditation review: local engagement, equity and access, finance and administration, assessment of student learning and undergraduate research.
The self-study itself will consist of research and investigation done by the working groups until 2013-14, when their reports will be compiled and sent to Middle States in preparation for a visit by a team of evaluators from peer schools.
Though Middle States spokesperson Richard Pokrass said there is little question that Penn will be reaccredited, Price said he views the self-study phase as a means of examining undergraduate education at the University “in a deep way.”
“Rather than view [the self-study report] as a series of hoops that have to be encountered and jumped through or over, we think of it as an opportunity for careful self-study and an opportunity for improvement,” Price said.
Ten years ago, the focus of Penn’s self-study was graduate education. Because of that, it was natural for the University to turn its attention to undergraduates this year, according to Rob Nelson, executive director for education and academic planning in the Provost’s Office.
Nelson, who will serve as staff chair for the self-study, is also the point person for engaging with students and student groups on what issues to address.
College senior Joyce Greenbaum, the outgoing chair of the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education, said the Provost’s Office has been “spectacular” in its focus on student input.
The Provost’s Office “is really taking this opportunity to look at the undergraduate experience and come up with ways to improve it,” she said. “They’ve been very up front in soliciting change from us and the Undergraduate Assembly.”
Pokrass said administrative efforts to involve students are important to Middle States when a school begins its self-study.
“During [the] self-study, there’s an expectation that certain constituencies on campus are involved,” like students and faculty, he said.
Nelson emphasized that engagement should extend to the broader Penn community, as well. To that end, he plans to set up a website for anyone to submit ideas and feedback to be used in the review.
“I don’t want to just engage the students on [SCUE and the UA], but the student body as a whole,” he said.
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