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Penn is beginning to expand its reaccreditation review process by actively seeking feedback from a new constituency — the student body.

The University is in the middle of the self-study phase of its application for reaccreditation — which takes place every decade — to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Although there is little doubt that Penn will be reaccredited, administrators are using the self-study as an opportunity for a thorough review of undergraduate education on campus.

Students have become increasingly central to this process. In addition to a student steering committee composed of 16 students — half from the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education and half appointed by the Undergraduate Assembly — a student representative sits on each of the self-study’s seven working groups, except the finance working group.

Wharton senior and SCUE Chair Scott Dzialo stressed that reaccreditation is pertinent to every student at Penn.

“Reaccreditation touches every student’s life. There’s no undergraduate student at the University who will not be affected by this,” Dzialo said. “There’s a very clear, genuine need to get student perspectives and to bring them in, but it’s inherently difficult with something like reaccreditation, because it’s so much outside of the view of many students.”

In order to better facilitate outreach to the student body, Wallace Genser, associate director for undergraduate research at the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, will host the first of several “Food4Thought” sessions. At the session — scheduled to begin today at 5 p.m. in College Hall 205— Genser is inviting students to participate in a discussion about undergraduate research as it relates to the reaccreditation review.

Genser, who plays an organizational role as the staff director for the research working group, said student experiences have brought much to the table in meetings.

“I always think it’s important to hear what student experiences are,” he said. “We can talk it about it from a faculty point of view, but to hear what students are actually experiencing and what students’ needs are is crucial.”

Moving forward, Dzialo said, groups like SCUE will be working to organize a Food4Thought gathering with a faculty or staff member from each of the working groups.

The steering committee has also been seeking opinions from the campus community. College and Wharton junior and UA Vice President Abe Sutton said the feedback the committee has received from students has shed light on issues it would not have considered otherwise, such as the pre-med experience.

“We have the opportunity to find specific problems and highlight them and make sure that upper-level administrators seriously consider the best way to reshape them to reshape the entire undergraduate experience,” he said.

Nine years ago, Penn’s last reaccreditation review focused on graduate-level education, ultimately leading to the standardization of tuition across doctoral programs.

Executive Director for Education and Academic Planning in the Provost’s Office Rob Nelson added that, while the specific research questions have changed since the initial design of the self-study, the working groups are now fully engaged in the data-gathering process for each of their areas. They will also begin drafting reports in the spring.

“This process, though long and difficult, is exceptionally valuable,” Dzialo said. “It might be difficult getting faculty members together in a room to talk about undergraduate research, but when you do, the ideas that come out of that are really incredible.”

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