The stately wood-paneled walls of the John Grisham Room in the library at Mississippi State University give it a formal air. At 8:30 a.m. on a recent Tuesday, a small band of academic professionals entered the room to begin a serious job. During the course of just three days, the group of seven men and two women would seek the information and impressions they needed to help determine the accreditation status of this land-grant university, which enrolls about 20,000 students.
The visit began and ended with a meeting between reviewers and the university’s top administrators, including the president, the provost, and the general counsel. In between, there were discussions with dozens more faculty members, staff members, and students. The visiting team pored over the details of audits, assessments, curriculum design, distance learning, faculty credentials, financial controls, and student-learning outcomes, among many other topics.
The visit was what many say is the most valuable part of accreditation: where reviewers from peer institutions get to ask the hard questions, face to face; where the university has to explain what it does, how it meets the accreditor’s standards and federal regulations, fulfills its mission, and, most important, ensures that students are learning. Reviewers, too, say they learn from the visits, gathering ideas to carry back to their home institutions or finding out about pitfalls to avoid. <Read more.>