Indicative of the coronavirus era, Cornell next month will be among the first universities to receive an accreditation visit via Zoom.
Cornell has been accredited every decade by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education since 1921, and starting now every 8 years, the university reapplies. This year’s accreditation process falls in the middle of a global pandemic – so the university and other colleges in the region are successfully adapting to physically distant methods.
“It is important to have business as normal going on in the middle of this crisis, and that we continue to evaluate ourselves and to receive evaluation,” said Marin Clarkberg, associate vice provost of institutional research and planning, and the accreditation liaison officer.
Clarkberg and Michael Fontaine, associate vice provost of undergraduate education and a classics professor in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S), serve as co-chairs of the 13-member Cornell Accreditation Steering Committee. The group comprises 12 faculty members and an undergraduate.
The group, after two years of work, submitted its 156-page Cornell University Self-Study Report to peer evaluators at Middle States on Sept. 1; the online campus visit is scheduled for Oct. 11-14.
The self-study documents how Cornell fulfills its educational duties in seven categories:
- Mission and Goals;
- Ethics and Integrity;
- Design and Delivery of the Student Learning Experience;
- Support of the Student Experience;
- Educational Effectiveness Assessment;
- Planning, Resources and Institutional Improvement; and
- Governance, Leadership and Administration.
Among the highlights cited in the report is Cornell’s Active Learning Initiative, a program launched by A&S in 2013 and now funded across the university. Departments transformed classroom courses into hands-on, interactive pedagogies and fostered inclusive learning experiences, Fontaine said.
The redesigned courses raised student scores by nearly half a letter grade, according to the report. The number of students receiving low or marginal grades was reduced by half, and students’ course evaluation scores rose significantly.
Engaged Cornell, an initiative for students started in 2015, connected Cornell’s land-grant mission and public-engagement roots to key university priorities, such as civic engagement and intercultural competence.
The Global Cornell initiative, started in 2013, increased opportunities for students to think globally. According to the report, in 2012 about 27% of all students had some form of international study experience; by 2018, nearly 38% had studied abroad.
Accreditation is voluntary, but necessary in order for students to gain access to federal funding, student grants and loans. Students of non-accredited institutions are ineligible for federal financial aid.
Eric Barron, president of Pennsylvania State University, will lead the Middle States accreditation team for October’s online visit. The accreditation team will meet with various Cornell constituencies and high-level administrators.
“It was extraordinarily satisfying to see this collective of faculty, students, administrators and staff pitching in to gather this gigantic amount of data and work together to collaborate on writing and preparing the self-study,” Fontaine said. “It was really amazing to see it all come together.”
For Clarkberg, the 2021 effort was her second full accreditation project.
“It’s always a privilege and a pleasure to learn about Cornell,” she said. “If someone wants to know how Cornell works, the self-study document is a really tremendous resource.”
In addition to Clarkberg and Fontaine, the members of the Accreditation Steering Committee are:
- Lisa Nishii, vice provost of undergraduate education, and associate professor of human resource studies in the ILR School;
- Katherine Edmondson, assistant dean for students and instruction in the College of Veterinary Medicine;
- Alan Mathios, professor of policy analysis and management, former dean of the College of Human Ecology (CHE) (2007-18), and Middle States commissioner;
- Durba Ghosh, professor of history (A&S); Educational Effectiveness Assessment Working Group;
- Louis Hyman, associate professor of labor relations, law and history in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations; Ethics and Integrity Working Group;
- Caroline Levine, professor of English (A&S); Mission and Goals Working Group;
- Bruce Lewenstein, professor of communication in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), and professor and chair of science and technology studies (A&S); Governance, Leadership and Administration Working Group;
- Nick Matolka ’21, biological sciences major (CALS);
- Sean Nicholson, professor of policy analysis and management (CHE); Planning, Resources and Institutional Improvement Working Group;
- Scott Peters, professor of global development (CALS); Design and Delivery of the Student Learning Experience Working Group; and
- Stephan Schmidt, associate professor of city and regional planning in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning; Support of the Student Experience Working Group.