School prepares for visit by Middle States team

By Mike Caputo

Most students who plan on getting a degree from Rider want their diplomas to mean something, and a team representing the Middle States Commission on Higher Education will be here to ensure that desire.

On Sunday, March 4, a team consisting of one college president, three administrators and an observer from a state commission arrive onto the Lawrenceville campus for an extensive four-day visit. During the visit, the team will determine whether or not the University satisfies Middle States requirements for accreditation. Middle States defines its accreditation process as “an expression of confidence in an institution’s mission and goals, its performance and its resources.”

According to Debbie Stassola, associate vice president for planning and co-chair of the Middle States self-study steering committee, accreditation determines much more than name recognition.

“It’s important to say we are regionally accredited,” Stassola said. “And for us to accept financial aid money for individual students, we have to be regionally accredited.”

Regional accreditation is for the University as a whole, which differs from specialized accreditations, such as N-CAID, which is for the School of Education. Some institutions are not regionally accredited, and as a result, cannot receive financial aid. Stassola noted that colleges and universities are under even more pressure today to fulfill accreditation standards.

“Nowadays it has become even more important because of the greater scrutiny that higher education is under, with this call for accountability and questions arising about cost and accessibility,” she said.

Stassola, who prepared the 105-page self-study report with Co-Chair Dr. Robbie Clipper Sethi, professor of English, expressed confidence that attaining accreditation probably won’t be the major issue, but the evaluation will also provide important feedback on what the University can do to improve and execute its mission.

“If we do it right, which I think we did in this case, it’s an opportunity to assess ourselves within a context of these standards and to determine how well we are doing in these areas and where there is room for improvement,” said Stassola.

Even though member universities are required to fulfill all 14 standards required by Middle States, the group focuses on only four of these standards. Since Rider is still in the process of undergoing changes through its master planning process, Stassola said she believes it’s good timing for the assessment, but acknowledged that there is still plenty of room for improvement.

“There is definitely more work we need to do, but I think as an institution, we can say we are moving in the right direction,” said Stassola.

During the visit, the team members will be conducting a series of interviews with various areas of both campuses, including deans, vice presidents, faculty members and even student groups. Team members may also be seen eating lunch and conversing with students in either Daly’s or Cranberry’s.

On the final day of the visit, the entire Rider community is invited to attend the Middle States team’s exit interview, which takes place at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, March 7 in Sweigart Auditorium. At the interview, the team’s chairperson will provide a preview of the written evaluation before it’s sent to Middle States.

The visiting team’s chairperson is Stephen J. Sweeny, president of The College of New Rochelle in New Rochelle, N.Y. Sweeny will be joined by Mark P. Curchack, dean of graduate and professional studies at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa.; Susan M. Palmer, vice president of administration at the College of Saint Benedict in Saint Joseph, Minn.; James F. Trainer, director of Planning and Assessment at Villanova University in Villanova, Pa. and Marguerite Beardsley, acting director of Academic Affairs for the New Jersey Commission of Higher Education.

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