Chapter 8 - The Self Study Process
Current accreditation self-study at Shippensburg began in the spring semester of 1997 with the selection of four areas that the institution identified as most valuable for a "Selected Topics" approach to the process. Each of the areas was chosen after thorough discussion of Middle States Association requirements and after a survey of the university community conducted early in the term. The discussions and the survey were very similar for the most part in their conclusions. Institutional Integrity and Effectiveness, the first area selected and a primary concern for any institution, is measured by how well the actual practices of the university are serving its mission and goals. Student Learning and Development, the second area, includes both the academic and the co-curricular life of the university and is the primary focus of the mission of the institution. The third area, identified as extremely important by almost two/thirds of the respondents to the survey, was Technology and Innovation, the degree to which the university is meeting the challenge of the application of rapid technological change to higher education. The final area selected, although it was not rated in the survey results as highly as the other three, was Community Responsiveness. Nevertheless, its importance to the mission of a regional public institution made it a natural and logical choice.
The four selected topics, reports on the discussions and the survey results were taken to the Self-Study Steering Committee, a group of over thirty members drawn from the entire campus and surrounding community, which authorized study groups to examine each area. The study groups were given balanced membership and each was charged with examining the extent to which the university was fulfilling its mission and goals in their respective areas. The groups were also asked to review and consider in their examinations the State System Of Higher Education Imperatives for the Future and the Middle States Association's pamphlet Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education. Each group was asked to approach its task in a problem-oriented, data-based and analytical manner using evidence available to or generated by the group itself. In addition, the study groups were charged with developing recommendations for improvement in their areas as warranted by the evidence.
The study groups met throughout the fall of 1997 after making decisions on the scope of their responsibilities and the methodologies to be used. The Institutional Integrity and Effectiveness group examined two general areas-the effectiveness of the university in setting and realizing objectives and the relationship between resource allocations and the institutional planning process. Committee members were given assignments in each of these areas and were asked to work with available data from the Office of Institutional Planning and Research and other sources and to interview appropriate members of the academic community.
The Student Learning and Development Study Group followed similar procedures. It divided into subgroups to examine co-curricular activities, General Education, the graduate program, and undergraduate programming in the Colleges of Arts and Science, Education and Human Services and Business. Campus-wide assessment data were analyzed, as well as five-year program reviews from academic departments and colleges. Plans and other documents from student affairs offices were also examined. All information was then brought together, strengths and concerns noted and discussed, and conclusions abstracted in a final draft report.
The Technology and Innovation Study Group focused on issues relating to the use of technological support for the mission of the university: distance learning, the Internet as a learning tool, media services, technology training, laboratory equipment, the Information and Computing Technology Center, the Ezra Lehman Library, technology costs, curriculum enhancement, software acquisitions, and technology planning by the institution. It used several sources of data such as interviews with department chairs, reports and plans from university administrators, equipment inventory lists and Internet searches. The Office of Institutional Research and Planning also conducted a survey of faculty and recent Shippensburg graduates on technology.
For its report, the Community Responsiveness Study Group collected information from many sources, among them the Institute for Public Service, the Frehn Center for Management, the Center for State and Local Government, the Women's Center, and school districts in the southcentral Pennsylvania region. Data were organized for graduate and undergraduate programs that involved the surrounding community. Internships, training and certification programs, community service and research projects, student volunteerism statistics, and university contributions to local communities were analyzed. These data were also supplemented with interviews and surveys. Interviews were conducted with individuals from the community and from the university, and surveys and questionnaires were distributed to members of selected campus advisory boards to determine the extent to which the community service mission and goals of the institution were being met.
Written reports from each study group were completed early in the spring semester of 1998, and discussions on the conclusions and recommendations of the reports were held. Summaries of the reports incorporating the discussions were then prepared for consideration by the Steering Committee in the late spring. At that meeting, it was decided that a number of further discussions would be held during the summer on key issues that had emerged from the work of the study groups and that seemed to warrant more consideration by the entire university community. These issues were framed in the form of questions and each question was considered at two sessions attended by a cross section of faculty and administrators, some of whom were invited to participate. Two individuals were asked to prepare position papers for the initial meetings on each question to facilitate discussion. Between ten and twenty faculty and administrators attended each session, but student participation at the meetings was limited to the discussions on graduate programming. However, there were written undergraduate responses to each of the questions that were provided through the Student Senate.
The following questions were considered:
- What can be done to improve the university's retention of minority students, faculty and staff?
- What can be done to create a more "inspiring and engaging" General Education program?
- What can be done to improve the status and structure of our graduate programming?
- How do we develop and offer new programming within a steady state budget?
- How do we develop an authentic "culture of evidence" that can be used to make the university better and more effective?
- How can the entire university better help with major problems and needs of the surrounding community?
- How can we keep up with the demands of technological change within a steady state budget?
- How can we move toward a standard of "computer literacy" for all members of the university community?
In addition to providing interesting and productive discussions of the questions themselves, the summer campus-wide meetings helped to confirm the interdependence of the work of all the study groups as part of the self-study process and the need to consider changes and recommendations in any given area in relation to the others. The summer discussions were followed by several meetings in the fall of 1998 to consider and amend written drafts of the subject areas. Two of these sessions were campus-wide meetings to which the entire university community was invited, and an expanded meeting of the Planning and Budget Council also evaluated the drafts. The Council of Trustees and the Board of Directors of the Shippensburg University Foundation were given a report on the process. In early October, the Middle States Self-Study Steering Committee was asked for its recommendations. The suggestions and recommendations that came out of these meetings were combined with the work of the study groups to produce a draft of the self-study that was shared with the chair of the Middle States Association evaluation team late that month.
Following editorial revisions, the draft was shared electronically with the campus community and the governance structure of the university was asked to consider the recommendations of the self-study and possible revisions of the institutional mission and goals in January of 1999. These discussions included an open meeting of the University Forum to which academic department chairs, college deans and participants in the summer meetings were specifically invited, a Deans Council Meeting, another session with an expanded Planning and Budget Council and a final consideration by the Executive Management Team. The self-study was then completed early in February.