Institutional Assessment and GEP Need Improvement, Middle States Self Study Says

Although substantial progress has been made in most areas since the last time Frostburg State University went through re-acceditation, several areas need improvement, including institutional assessment and the General Education Program (GEP).

FSU conducted an extensive self-study, as a part of the re-accreditation process that is overseen by the Middle States Commission for Higher Education. The self-study evaluates “the ways in which the University is aligning its mission and goals with planning and decision-making across the divisions,” as stated in the self-study report.

The self-study indicated that FSU’s institutional assessment process needs improvement. The President’s Advisory Council for Institutional Effectiveness (PACIE) “reviews the University’s strategic plan, mission, and goals annually to identify key priority issues,” such as experiential learning and graduate preparedness, and reviews and updates FSU’s strategic plan.

However, this review did not occur in 2015 and “over the last several years of PACIE reporting, it became clear that the council turned into a clearinghouse for reporting rather than a true advisory body,” according to the self-study.

Dr. Terrie Massie-Burrell, an assistant provost and the head of the Center for Academic Advising and Retention, stated that “everything can always improve…We’re doing our best to make changes as needed.” She emphasized the importance of trying to find better ways to evaluate the impact of FSU’s programs on students.

FSU’s General Education Program needs substantial revision. The self-study reports that “the GEP has not been reviewed in 10 years and a broad examination of both the GEP content and assessment processes is needed.” The last review – the Undergraduate Education Initiative – occurred in 2004. Revisions of the GEP will comply with state regulations and include better assessment procedures.

Duncan explained that “the ideal General Education Program helps prepare students to be participatory citizens in the world” and though FSU is not quite there, the institution is taking strides to achieve that goal. The provost created a General Education Program Review committee, and some faculty and staff have attended conferences and symposiums on general education programs and assessment.

“We don’t want it to be a check box,” Bittinger stated regarding the GEP. “We want everyone to be excited about it.”

Student retention and graduation rates received mixed praise in the self-study.

“For the second year in a row, Frostburg’s second-year retention rates for African Americans (83%) and minorities (80%) exceeded that of the total student population (77%),” says the self-study, “While the six-year graduation rates for these student groups has also grown over the same time period, the graduation rate for African-Americans (44%) and minorities (43%) continues to be less than that of all first-time students (49%).”

The self-study indicated a desire to continue to increase recruitment and retention of a diverse student populace. Recent improvements to the Academic Success Network (ASN), which includes such initiatives as the developmental math courses, Programs Advancing Student Success, and the Center for Academic Advising and Retention, have been credited as significant contributing factors to increased retention rates. According to Dr. Duncan, there is a higher rate of retention for females than males, and white males have the lowest retention rate.

FSU’s “collegial governance bodies, including the Faculty Senate, the President’s Staff Advisory Council, and the Student Government Association” received high praise, as did the university’s efforts regarding diversity and community involvement.

The self-study concludes with seven recommendations:

“1. Establish and implement an internal simplified periodic program review process for non-major academic programs, such as minors and certificates.

2. Ensure processes for consistently assessing and promoting the effectiveness of institutional priorities and academic programs to the University community. Ensure the use of Campus Labs’ Compliance Assist to highlight and publicize assessment successes across the University.

3. Develop Strategic Plan priorities that fully address resource implications through a transparent process that invites engagement from the campus community.

4. Develop a plan for advisor training and assessment incorporated as a part of annual faculty evaluations and staff evaluations, as appropriate.

5. Ensure processes for consistently assessing and promoting the effectiveness of co-curricular and extra-curricular programs to the University community. Ensure the use of Campus Labs’ Compliance Assist to highlight and publicize these assessment successes across the University.

6. Implement a sustainable process for the assessment of student learning outcomes in the University’s General Education Program.

7. Evaluate the diagnostic precision of the current program that places students into developmental Math and basic writing courses, and make appropriate improvements.”

When speaking of where FSU goes from the self-study, Dr. Duncan summarized the self-study incredibly well when she stated that “everything has just been blown wide open…we’ve got purpose; we’ve got internal drive, and now with the visiting team we’ve got external drive…It’s all about institutional improvement… People are really committed to this institution – faculty, staff, and students. That says a lot about us, I think, that people care so much.”

The Middle States Commission will announce its findings in the coming weeks.

Work on the self-study report began in the Fall 2013; the final draft of the report was completed in December 2015.

The final verdict on FSU’s accreditation is made in Summer 2016.

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