Accreditation: What Does It Mean for AUC?

AUC is currently undergoing a reaffirmation of its institutional accreditation with the Middle States Commission for Higher Education (MSCHE).To better understand what accreditation is and what reaffirmation of accreditation entails, News@AUC spoke with two members of the AUC community:

Mohamed Nagib Abou-Zeid, professor of construction engineering, chair of the University Senate and chair of the 22-member Accreditation Steering Committee, made up of faculty, staff, students, Parents Association and the administration. Abou-Zeid chaired this same committee 10 years ago at AUC Tahrir Square during AUC’s last reaccreditation process.

Iman Megahed, executive director of Data Analytics and Institutional Research (DAIR), which is responsible for administrating any institutional accreditation and for managing the whole MSCHE process, including planning, preparing AUC’s self-study report, conducting assessments and surveys, compiling documentation and evidence as collective tools for continuous improvement, as well as raising campus awareness.

What is accreditation?

Abou-Zeid: Accreditation is a process in which an independent non-for profit entity inspects and reviews an educational institution in terms of various aspects of its performance, assessment, resources, sustainability and deliverables to the community, to name a few. It then evaluates how well the University fulfills its mission through specific quality performance criteria. It’s a seal of quality that explains to the institution itself and the wider educational community how well a certain institution is fulfilling this mission.

What is the difference between institutional accreditation and program-level accreditation?

Megahed: Program-level accreditation is focused on one major and is very academic in nature. Institutional accreditation looks at everything about the institution, including academics, but it’s more general.

What does a reaffirmation of accreditation mean?

Abou-Zeid: A reaffirmation of accreditation means that we have already been accredited by MSCHE before. Since then, they have modified their standards slightly, so we are applying for reaccreditation based on these new standards and for the first time since being on the New Cairo campus.

Megahed: AUC has been with accredited with MSCHE since 1982, and this is our third round of accreditationwith them. Every 10 years, we have to go through a rigorous study of self-assessment and peer-assessmentfor MSCHE reaccreditation. We will be determined for reaccreditation in 2018, and it’s a three-year process that we started in 2015. The full MSCHE accreditation assessment team will visit in the spring of 2018 to verify what’s in AUC’s self-study, get feedback, interview people on campus and more.After the visit, theywill decide on the status of our re-accreditation.

What standards does MSCHE focus on?

Abou-Zeid:There are seven clear standards:

  • Fulfilment of the University’s mission
  • Ethics and integrity
  • Student life and services
  • Educational deliverables
  • Assessment and its effectiveness
  • Resources and their stability
  • Strategic planning governance and leadership

What is the role of the Accreditation Steering Committee in the accreditation process?

Abou-Zeid: The steering committee is divided into eight groups that cover the seven standards of accreditation, as well as something called an affiliation requirement, which shows that we are fulfilling the requirements of the state of Delaware from which AUC is being chartered. Each group has a committee of seven to 10 people, and they are preparing their part of the evaluation.

What is DAIR’s role?

Megahed: Every one of the accreditation working groups researches one of the MSCHE standards and prepares a report with its findings, supporting evidence and recommendations. DAIR compiles all of this together into one coherent document. DAIR also works on the alignment between all the different working groups by having a representative in each of the groups to help make a cohesive document to present to MSCHE.In general, DAIR is the primary link with the MSCHE liaison and evaluation team, and we are responsible for communicating the accreditation process with the entire AUC community through a variety of channels, including community forums.

What are AUC’s greatest strengths and challenges when it comes to accreditation?

Abou-Zeid: AUC has different strengths that appear clearly in the accreditation process. On top of the list are our faculty members and quality education and research, as well as the modernity of the New Cairo campus and students’ engagement with the greater society.

There are also challenges that face all institutions, such as how we can create a strategic plan that’s supported by sustainable resources for years to come. The other challenge is better identification of roles and responsibilities, from top to bottom, throughout the University. At AUC, we have a participatory approach to governance with roles defined for everyone. This should include a mechanism through which voices are heard and decisions are being considered.

How does the reaccreditation process involve students and faculty?

Abou-Zeid: The involvement is on three levels. First, all the data and research that are being conducted have to be brought bottom-up from constituencies, such as parents, students, faculty, staff, the administration and the community at large. Second,the AUCcommittee conductingthe accreditation self-study is composed of faculty, staff, administrators and students as well. Third, and most importantly, we conduct an awareness process of what’s happening and receive feedback on the outcome.

What is the most important thing for the internal community to know about accreditation?

Megahed: We want AUC community members to know that we greatly value their input. It is extremely helpful for us when people speak their minds and tell us their opinions. The more people participate in our surveys and process, the more valuable our data becomes. We will provide several venues (in addition to the forum that was already held) to allow the community to provide comments and feedback on the self-study document and the recommendations made.

How is accreditation of benefit to the AUC community?

Megahed: Everyone will benefit from us being better institutionally. So the more participation and the more we have the community involved, the better. The various work groups involved have been contacting different members of the AUC community to get the information they need, so there are already a lot of people involved, but we still want to give the people who weren’t directly involved the chance to voice their opinions and tell us what they think.

How is data collection an integral part of the accreditation process?

Megahed:Data is at the heart of the reaffirmation of accreditation. One of the key components of the accreditation process is the self-study report, a 100-page document compiled by faculty and staff members from every corner of the University. They must assess to what extent AUC is compliant with MSCHE’s seven standards of accreditation. They are required to do extensive research regarding these standards and collect data to validate recommendations and conclusions made in the self-study report. The data that DAIR generates enables the AUC administration to make informed decisions.

What are the greatest challenges in this data collection process?

Megahed: First, any institution changes over time, and AUC is no exception. These changes need to be incorporated in the final self-study so it reflects the current state of the University. Second, compiling evidence, numbers, figures, and lots of documents gives MSCHE evidence of everything we say. This compilation has to be done in a format that is user-friendly, secure when necessary, coherent and non-redundant to make it as easy as possible for the visiting accreditation team. The third challenge is that sometimes data or evidence just doesn’t exist, or it’s very difficult to get because it’s confidential, for example.

How does accreditation provide opportunities for institutional enhancement?

Abou-Zeid: It is important to remember that accreditation is not just a stamp of approval or excellence; rather, it’s a point where we can pause and recognize an opportunity for improvement on every front. Accreditation is a learning process in which we identify our institutional strengths, pinpoint if there are any weaknesses and work toward improving them in a transparent and collaborative manner in  which the entire institution and internal community take part.

Megahed: It’s a really important reflection process. All of the recommendations that we make are based on that reflection and research process. This is more than just a way to get the reaffirmation of accreditation.Itis a huge opportunity to take a step back to see what we’re doing well that we can build on, and what are our weaknesses that we can improve on.