Updates for PennWest California's Reaffirmation of Accreditation Process

The updates below outline activities undertaken as part of the self-study process required for accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Updates will be added periodically as we prepare for a visit by the Middle States Peer Evaluation Team during the Spring 2020 semester. 

Comments or questions may be addressed to associate provost Dr. Len Collelli at colelli@calu.edu.

Campus Updates: Middle States Accreditation

Spring 2022 Reaffirmation Activity: A Review

Cal U MSCHE Accreditation Action

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education met June 22nd and 23rd, 2022. The Commission acknowledged receipt of our Supplemental Information Report and noted the institution hosted a small virtual site visit in lieu of an on-site visit in accordance with the United States Department of  Education (USDE) guidelines.

The Commission reaffirmed Cal U’s accreditation and noted a verification visit required by USDE guidelines will be conducted within a reasonable period of time. The Commission also reminded Cal U of Commission action on March 10, 2022, that includes the change of name to Pennsylvania Western University (Please see the complete “Statement of Accreditation Status” for Cal U at the bottom of the Links Section on the Cal U Accreditation Website. 

MSCHE Small Evaluation Team Report & PennWest California Response

The findings in the “Evaluation Team Report” reduced the Standard VI “Requirement” to a “Recommendation” and sustained the Standard VII “Recommendation” noting progress made in governance.

The PennWest California response was to thank the work of the review team and commit to the Standard VI and VII recommendations including:

  • Assess and document evidence that PennWest University is incrementally improving fiscal and human resources, including physical and technical infrastructure, to support operations and


  • Continue developing a clearly articulated and transparent governance structure that outlines roles, responsibilities, and accountability for decision-making by each constituency, as well as periodic assessment of the effectiveness of governance, leadership, and administration.


2022 Small Middle States Virtual Visit

Due to ongoing COVID concerns, a small Middle States virtual visit occurred on April 19-20, 2022, with a focus on verifying continued progress made since the submission of a requested September 1, 2021 “Supplemental Information Report” regarding our Standard VI “Requirement” and Standard VII “Recommendation” outlined in the March 10, 2021 Commission “Action Letter”.   

The visiting team comprised three members, a team chair with expertise in administration and institutional governance, an expert in finance, and our PennWest MSCHE Vice President. Thirty evidence documents were uploaded in MSCHE Portal for the team to review prior to the start of the virtual visit. Seven meetings occurred on the first day including the President, Cabinet, folks who prepared the “Supplemental Information Report”, Budget and Planning Committee, Council of Trustees, Mini Shared Governance Task Force, and an open meeting with faculty and staff.

Two meetings occurred on the second day: an exit interview with President Pehrsson and the team chair Readout of Findings.

 2022 Middle States Commission Meeting

PennWest California had initially hoped that the “Follow-Up Review Team” visit for our September 2021 “Supplemental Information Report” would occur in February of 2022 with our reaffirmation decision occurring during the March 2022 Commission meeting followed by a transfer of our accreditation to PennWest University. However, Middle States delayed the follow-up visit until mid-April. Therefore, the next scheduled Commission meeting for our reaffirmation of accreditation decision is June 2022.

Summer – Fall 2021 Reaffirmation Activity: A Review

September 30, 2021

Supplemental Information Report

On March 10, 2021, PennWest California received a Middle States Commission “Action Letter” postponing the commission’s reaffirmation decision and providing an additional six months for PennWest California to submit a “Supplemental Information Report” with evidence:

  • Documenting the sufficiency of planning and resources to fulfill its mission and goals and to support its educational purposes and programs (Standard VI Requirement ); and
  • Clearly articulating a transparent governance structure that outlines roles, responsibilities, and accountability for decision-making by each constituency (Standard VII Recommendation).

Our Supplemental Information Report was submitted prior to the deadline with evidence of improvement for the Standard VI financial “Requirement” and the Standard VII shared governance “Recommendation.”  

2022 Small Follow-Up Team Report

Standard VI Requirement

Notably, we provided evidence of a 2020-2021 fiscal year surplus of over $5.6 million added to our Education & General (E&G) unrestricted operation and plant net assets. Also, while our auxiliary unrestricted operating and plant funds had a deficit of almost $2.3 million, had we been able to recognize the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds of $6.3 million as income to supplement our lost revenue, we would have ended with a surplus of approximately $4 million added to our auxiliary net assets. (These funds will be recognized during the 2021-2022 fiscal year since we are now awarding student funds.)

We also provided evidence of new educational partnerships, an improved annualized faculty FTE trend, and continued progress on our Western Integration with Clarion and Edinboro universities, which is expected to strengthen the financial sustainability of all three schools. We believe this evidence demonstrates improvement in our financial ability to fulfill our mission and goals compared with the previous 2019-2020 fiscal year.  

Standard VII Recommendation

During spring and summer 2021, we reconvened a mini version of our original Shared Governance Taskforce with leadership from the Faculty Senate to:

  • Consider returning the Faculty Senate to our officialPennWest CaliforniaGovernance Structure at the highest level of our faculty governance silo;
  • Improve communication and trust by mitigating our three existing governance silos (student, faculty and staff) with the creation of a strategic level deliberative governance body (University Senate);
  • Develop University Senate Bylaws, which define membership from each governance silo and administration and also include rotating University Senate leadership positions (President, Vice President, Secretary) each consecutive year from faculty, staff and administration membership; and
  • Create a Shared Governance Decision-Making Matrix clearly articulating the roles, responsibilities, and accountability of each decision-making constituency.

During the first half of the Fall 2021 semester, our mini Shared Governance Taskforce is  implementing a focused “Communication and Review Process” of proposed changes with our governance entities including academic departments, college councils, university-wide curriculum committee, APSCUF (faculty union), Faculty Senate, Student Government, Staff Leadership Council, and the president’s Cabinet. These governance entities will be asked to review and provide feedback (input); the Cabinet will be asked to review and “decide”; and our Council of Trustees (COT) will be asked for final “approval” of these changes per the “Shared Governance Decision-Making Matrix” during their December 2021 quarterly meeting. If approved, an initial University Senate meeting will be scheduled soon after this COT meeting.

March 2022 Middle States Commission Meeting

The final decision of our PennWest California reaffirmation of accreditation will occur during the March 2022 Middle States Commission meeting. Per U.S. Department of Education policy, all schools that scheduled virtual evaluation team visits must host a small, one-day face-to-face campus visit prior to the final reaffirmation of accreditation decision. The Middle States Commission previously indicated that evaluation team visits during the Fall 2021 semester are expected to continue in a virtual format. Therefore, it is expected that our small evaluation team visit will occur in February 2022. 

Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 Reaffirmation Activities: A Review

May 13, 2021

Virtual Middle States Visit

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our Middle States peer evaluation team visit was re-scheduled from March 2020 to September 22-25 and was reformatted as a “virtual visit” using the Zoom conferencing application. The visit included an opening (welcome) session on the afternoon of September 22 with eight external evaluation team members and PASSHE observer Dr. Donna F. Wilson, associate vice chancellor of academic affairs.

Thirty-six PennWest California participants also were invited, including PennWest California governance entities (administrators, trustees, student government members and union leaders) and folks who directly contributed to the development of the PennWest California Self-Study report.

Forty-eight virtual meetings were scheduled over the next two days for evaluation team members to meet, discuss and gather evidence related to each of the seven Middle States Standards of Accreditation. Lastly, a “Team Chair Preliminary Readout of Findings” was presented verbally at 10 a.m. on the final day of the virtual visit.

Evaluation Team Report

A draft written “Evaluation Team Report” was received in early October 2020. PennWest California responded with “factual corrections” and a “Final Evaluation Team Report” (with factual corrections) was received on October 19.

The final report includes the following positive comments.

“The team commends PennWest California for its impressive Self-Study process and products. The report is clear and insight-filled and the evidence inventory is voluminous. At each stage—and there have been several stages given COVID—PennWest California has provided abundant information and documentation to tell its story and reflect its strengths and areas for improvement.

“Equally impressive is how PennWest California has leveraged the Middle States process, especially in the past three years, to make measurable improvements in areas subject to the standards. Perhaps none is more impressive than design and implementation of a robust and still-maturing assessment program. The team applauds how diligently the campus dedicated itself and how that diligence has led to insights and culture change.

“The team thanks members of the PennWest California community for their serious self-reflection, and for the candor, openness and thoughtfulness brought to the evaluation process. PennWest California held up a mirror to the institution, welcoming fresh eyes and providing opportunities for frank input from campus constituents. In all these ways, PennWest California demonstrated its commitment to at once celebrate and improve the institution. This makes it a role model for institutional hosts.”

Evaluation team outcomes for each of the seven standards of accreditation may range from collegial advice to requirements. Advice is a non-binding suggestion for improvement; a recommendation requires periodic evidence of incremental improvement; and a requirement indicates noncompliance with a standard or criterion within a standard. A requirement must be addressed as soon as possible for a clean reaffirmation of accreditation decision.  

Summarized below are the outcomes for each of the seven standard chapters.

Standards of Accreditation


Standard I:    Mission and Goals

Advice (3)

Standard II:   Ethics & Integrity

Advice (4)

Standard III:  Design/Delivery of Student Learning

Advice (1)

Standard IV:  Support of the Student Experience

Advice (4), Recommendation (1)

Standard V:   Educational Effectiveness Assessment

Advice (3)

Standard VI:  Planning, Resources, Inst. Improvement

Advice (4), Requirement (1)

Standard VII: Governance, Leadership, & Admin.

Advice (3), Recommendation (3)


PennWest California

Substantive Response Report

A PennWest California “Substantive Response Report” was uploaded in the Middle States virtual portal on October 26, 2020. We thanked the evaluation team and PASSHE observer for their “dedicated and collegial interactions with our PennWest California campus and local community participants” during the 50 virtual meetings in which they participated. We indicated how pleased we were to read the positive comments about our self-study, processes and products and provided the following progress updates regarding eight of the team’s collegial advice outcomes and one recommendation:

  • The Standard I advice to extend the 2015-20 Strategic Plan has already been approved by the University President and Cabinet, and a third evaluation of the Strategic Plan will occur during the Spring 2021 semester to better inform our 2021-26 Strategic Plan.
  • During the Fall 2020 semester, the Standard IV advice to require students on probation to attend a specific number of workshops was implemented (at least three workshops per semester) to improve persistence rates.
  • The Standard V advice to “invite experts from the outside of the institution to conduct academic program reviews” was implemented in the 2018-19 revised program review process per PASSHE Policy 1986-04-A (C.1), where “each program not subject to specialized accreditation will be reviewed by an appropriate external evaluator” in at least every other five-year review.
  • The Standard VI advice thatPennWest California“leverage the university-wide Tuition Pricing Task Force to assist in the development of pricing models for undergraduate and graduate students and for high-demand and/or highly expensive degree programs” has been implemented as one of the major focuses of this task force. The various pricing strategies for online (undergraduate and graduate), high-demand programs (e.g., communication disorders), new educational partnerships, out-of-state discount rate, military discount rates, and doctoral program pricing have originated from this task force.
  • The Standard VI advice that “PennWest Californiashare with a wider audience the context and methods for analyzing department viability and return on investment” for academic programs has occurred at APSCUF meet-and-discuss meetings with the APSCUF president and executive officers, and at other campus-wide meetings such as Provost’s Council (academic deans and chairs) and Faculty Senate. Academic Program Sustainability meetings have also been occurring with various faculty groups (including department chairs) to solicit feedback on the assessment metrics used to determine program viability.
  • The Standard VI advice thatPennWest Californiaconsider “improvements in its engagement of and communication to campus constituents in financial assessment and decision processes to increase understanding and buy-in for budget allocations ... for financial sustainability of the institution” began at a campus forum in February 2020, where the Sustainability Plan Version 1 and campus master plan were shared with the campus community. A Sustainability Task Force was created (March 2020) with representation from all employee groups (managers, faculty and staff) to assist in development of the Sustainability Plan Version 2 and the Comprehensive Planning Process (CPP). All versions (Sustainability plans 1, 2 and the CPP) were shared with the entire campus community.
  • The Standard VII advice to consider a strategic-level integrated governance entity to deliberate university-wide issues was initiated in early September 2020 with the creation of a new (focused) “Shared Governance Task Force” including leaders of Student Government, Staff Leadership Council, APSCUF (faculty union), Faculty Senate, and administration to consider the creation of an integrated governance body such as a “University Senate” to improve communication and trust within the governance structure. The initial meeting of this task force occurred in the week prior to the Middle States virtual visit, and all members of the new Shared Governance Task force were invited to participate in the virtual 9-9:50 a.m. virtual Middle States evaluation team meeting on September 23, 2020.
  • The Standard VII advice to add a non-voting student member to the University Curriculum Committee is currently in process. UCC Chair Michael Perrotti confirmed they “will include an option for a non-voting student in our By Laws revision this year.”
  • The Standard VII recommendation to provide further evidence of a clearly articulated and transparent structure that outlines roles, responsibilities and accountability for decision-making by each constituency has also been charged to the new Shared Governance Task Force to develop a “PennWest CaliforniaShared Governance Decision-Making Matrix Tool” as displayed in Self-Study Evidence Inventory example artifact VII.5.6.

Finally, PennWest California provided a rationale for reducing the Standard VI requirement to a recommendation. The rationale discussed aggressive activities PennWest California has implemented regarding enrollment, revenue growth and expenditure savings. We also discussed “educational partnerships,” “right sizing our faculty to student FTE ratio,” “COVID-19 impact on financials,” “university net position” and our “system redesign/integration” process.

Our conclusion in our substantive response report:  

“PennWest California is aggressively implementing processes that improve compliance with the MSCHE Standard VI requirement for sufficiency of resources to fulfill our mission and goals and to support our educational purposes and programs within an extraordinary (non-normal) COVID-19 related environment. While we have little control over the negative financial impact from this pandemic, we are engaging in bold actions to strengthen Standard VI compliance. We continue to right-size our academic programs, physical buildings and faculty/administrative/staff complements to better align with our declining regional population, and we are aggressively moving forward with a two-year PASSHE Redesign initiative to integrate and share resources via a “Western Trio” with Clarion and Edinboro universities. We hope these actions demonstrate our commitment to strengthening Standard VI compliance and will earn MSCHE consideration for reducing the Visiting Evaluation Team Standard VI requirement outcome to a recommendation with annual progress reporting of our achievements.

Middle States Action Letter

On March 10, 2021, PennWest California received a Middle States Action Letter informing the University that on March 4, 2021, the Commission acted as follows:

  • To acknowledge receipt of the self-study report,
  • To note that the institution hosted a virtual site visit in lieu of an on-site visit in accordance with United States Department of Education (USDE) guidelines published March 17, 2020,
  • To postpone a decision and request a supplemental information report, due September 1, 2021, documenting evidence of the sufficiency of planning and resources to fulfill its mission and goals and to support its educational purposes and programs (Standard VI),
  • To request that the supplemental information report also provide further evidence of a clearly articulated and transparent governance structure that outlines roles, responsibilities, and accountability for decision-making by each constituency (Standard VII),
  • To direct a follow-up team visit following submission of the supplemental information report,
  • To note the visit will also fulfill the verification requirements of the USDE guidelines, and
  • Upon reaffirmation of accreditation, the next evaluation visit is scheduled for 2027-2028.

Institutional Update from ALO Len Colelli to Middle States Liaison Dr. Ellie Fogarty

March 25, 2020

Per the March 17th MSCHE COVID-19 Webinar, we were advised to provide an institutional update to you by April 1st.  

I'm currently working remotely from home as is our faculty, administration and most "non-essential" staff with regularly scheduled meetings occurring via ZOOM and Skype conferencing. Our spring break occurred during the week of March 8th. This break was extended for an additional two weeks for our students and during the extension, faculty teaching face-to-face classes were provided with professional development opportunities to convert and teach their classes online. Beginning next week, all of our classes will be taught online for the duration of the spring 2020 semester. We have also cancelled all campus events including the spring 2020 commencement ceremony and are considering options for recognizing our spring graduates once our university reopens.  

As this is our Middle States reaffirmation year, we conducted our self-study and submitted the report and evidence via the MSCHE Portal in early February. Since our campus has been closed per the COVID-19 situation, we also requested a postponement of our peer-review visit. Links to our completed 2020 Self-Study Report, Updates About our Self-Study Process, our Middle States Visit Education Presentation, Compliance Report, and Opportunities for Improvement and Innovation (from the Self-Study) are provided at our Accreditation Webpage (see link below). The link on this site to our Evidence Inventory is password protected and available to our internal campus community.  

Please let me know if additional information or data is desired. 


Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 Activities: A Review

February 26, 2020

Our Middle States Self-Study work groups continued reviewing, editing and revising self-study chapter narratives. The Leadership Team (Len Colelli, Steve Atkins and Justin Hackett) and work-group co-chairs revised chapters all Standards chapters, and line editors (Laura Tuennerman and Melanie Blumberg) completed initial and follow-up edits on all chapters of the self-study report.

In October 2019, we learned that our self-study evidence exhibits might need to be uploaded into a recently created Middle States Evidence Portal rather than the MS SharePoint inventory we had created. This was confirmed during the December 2019 Middle States annual conference. Using the Evidence Portal required format changes for over 370 evidence exhibits supporting our seven self-study chapters.

Dr. Kathryn Foster, president of the College of New Jersey and chair of our Middle States peer review committee, visited our campus on November 4, 2019. The purpose of her visit was to learn about our University and campus, establish logistics (e.g., hotel, the committee’s base of operations on campus, etc.), and meet with various campus constituents: President Jones, the Council of Trustees, President’s Cabinet, Self-Study Steering Committee, deans, staff members, and students , whom she met for lunch in the Gold Rush. 

The primary message from our team chair was that “the process is the product,” meaning the quality and dedication of all involved in planning, researching, writing and editing the self-study report will reflect the quality of the final self-study. President Foster also indicated that our self-study should identify our strengths, challenges and opportunities for institutional improvement/innovation, and these could inform our next strategic plan. Based on that advice, the conclusions of each self-study chapter provide this information. President Foster also emphasized the important role of the Council of Trustees in University governance and her expectation of their participation during the peer review visit. 

The Compliance Committee continued its work on the Middle States Compliance Report, which also was completed in early February 2020. The Compliance Report was submitted in the Standard II, Criterion 1 section of our Middle States Evidence Inventory. A duplicate copy of the Compliance Report also was included in the Standard II, Criterion 8 evidence inventory. 

The executive summary for the self-study report was written in January 2020 and revised in early February. Once completed, the combined self-study report exceeded the 100 single-spaced page Middle States requirement by about 80 pages, so it required significant copy-editing. Our copy-editing team (Christine Kindl, Justin Hackett, Steve Atkins, Alice Jenkins and Ashley Teets) diligently worked during the first week of February to reduce the size of the final self-study report to 99 single-spaced pages.

The completed Self-Study Report was uploaded in the Middle States Portal on the evening of February 9 and evidence inventory exhibits were uploaded the following day. Links to the 2020 Self-Study Report, Evidence Inventory, Compliance Report, and end-of-chapter Opportunities for Improvement and Innovation are provided here and at our Accreditation Webpage.

Soon after uploading the self-study and evidence in the Middle States portal, our Oversight Team prepared a Middle States Visit Educational Presentation to prepare the campus community for the visit. As of this writing, the presentation has been provided to all college councils, the Provost’s Council consisting of academic department chairs, Student Government, Academic Success Staff, and four academic departments. Additional campus-wide presentations (including the Council of Trustees March Quarterly Meeting) have been and are expected to be scheduled during the lead-up to our March 22-25 peer review visit. A link to this presentation is also provided at our Accreditation webpage.

Updates to other critical accreditation-related webpages have also occurred during the spring 2020 semester. A link to Assessment Results on our Strategic Plan webpage illustrates substantial success of our strategic plan. A new section was added to our Shared Governance webpage illustrating the current Shared Governance structure (below).

Shared governance model.

This model now includes the four recently added assessment committees and the governance relationship of these committees to the institutional planning and budgeting process per Middle States Requirement of Affiliation #10. Additionally, our Assessment website is currently being updated to align all assessment handbooks and processes to the recent implementation of our Nuventive digital assessment platform. 

Spring and Summer Activities:  A Review

August 29, 2019

Our Middle States Self-Study team had very active 2019 spring and summer terms.  Most activity centered around  reviewing, editing, and revising self-study chapter narratives. The Self-Study Oversight Team (Colelli, Atkins, Hackett) reviewed initial drafts of the seven Self-Study chapters and provided recommendations for improvement. Three of the chapters (I, VI and VII) were revised by chapter work teams, were forwarded to our two self-study editors for their review and are currently undergoing additional revision by the chapter working groups.  The remainder of the Self-Study chapters( II, III, IV and V) are currently undergoing initial revisions from Oversight Team reviews and will soon be forwarded to the self-study editorial team for their initial reviews.

The Compliance Committee has been working on our Middle States Compliance Report which will document evidence of compliance with seven of the fifteen Requirements of Affiliation. The verification of the remaining eight Requirements of Affiliation is occurring within the narratives of the seven Self-Study Chapters as indicated in Table 2 page 5 of our Self-Study Design Document.  The Compliance Report will be uploaded in the Middle States Portal near the end of the fall 2019 semester.

A revised “Academic Integrity Policy” and new “Verification of Student Identity Policy” were developed during the spring 2019 semester further strengthen our Compliance Report.  The draft policies were shepherded through the academic portion of the shared governance system for feedback and multiple revisions. Discussion and feedback occurred with our four college/school councils, the University-Wide Curriculum Committee, the APSCUF Executive Committee (and Meet & Discuss forum) and finally, the President’s Cabinet where the policies received final approval in July and have been posted in the “Academic Policies” section of the University Policies website. 

The PennWest California periodic program review process was revised during the spring 2019 semester to align with the related PASSHE 1986-04-A policy revision that occurred in July 2018.  New program review report templates were also developed to better align our program review evaluation criteria with the July 2018-revised PASSHE Procedure/Standard Number 2018-35: “Review of Academic Programs and Programs in Support of the Student Experience.” One template requires a “Full” program review every five years for non-accredited academic programs and the other template requires a “Modified” program review for accredited programs primarily  based on their unique accreditation cycles. The program performance criteria for these templates were aligned with the PASSHE policy/standard AND the Robert C. Dickeson model for prioritizing academic programs and services. 

The revised program review process (timelines and the templates) were discussed and improved with feedback from our academic shared governance process including all college/school councils, the Deans/Provost Council, and the Provost/Senior VP for Academic Affairs.  These documents will soon be added to the “Program Review Procedures & Timelines” section of the University Assessment website.  Additional feedback for the revised process occurred with a pilot study in May and June 2019 of four program reviews of accredited programs using the modified program review template. The results of this pilot contributed to a further revision both the “Full” and “Modified” program review templates.

During the Spring 2019 semester, we administered and analyzed data from a number of assessment surveys to inform various areas of our Middle States Self-Study Report.  These surveys included the HEDS Diversity and Equity Campus Climate Survey, National Survey of Student Engagement, an Honors Program Student Survey to determine satisfaction and quality of our Honors Program, and an evaluation survey of our Governing Board (Council of Trustees) related to their roles and responsibilities, productivity, academic oversite, and personal assessment of the board.  

We also completed the initial cycle of the revised annual institution assessment process with a 52% compliance rate for our 71 administrative support units and 63% compliance rate for our 250 academic programs.  Our 2018-19 institutional effectiveness compliance goals were 85% to 95% compliance rates in both administrative and academic program areas for final “Results” report submissions.  We realize this is a revised process and believe a number of factors may have suppressed our performance this past year. Annual assessment is now a two-step process involving “plan report” and “results report” submissions with separate performance monitoring tools for each step. 

It is possible that green (compliance) performance indicators for fall semester “plan reports” were interpreted as successful completions of the entire annual assessment process; resulting in lower submissions of spring semester “results reports.”  It is also probable that some results reports were not submitted for many of our 58 accredited academic programs during the spring semester due to variances in the completion of their annual assessment cycles (closing their assessment loops during fall term advisory board meetings).  Also, as a revised process, better communication from our institutional effectiveness unit and additional accountability measures at the University level will also be needed. 

We will soon be convening our University Strategic Assessment Committee (USAC) to develop an initial ranking of results report “action plans” requesting institutional funding to improve academic program and administrative service outcomes. The highest ranked requests will forwarded to our governance-related Budget & Planning Committee for funding considerations.  

Our spring 2019 purchase requisition for membership in the PASSHE shared license for the NuventiveTM digital assessment platform was approved.  One key characteristic of the purchase requisition included a Nuventive data-upload option, which provides assistance from the Nuventive team for an upload of all 2018-19 annual assessment templates, assessment coordinator information, program and service area outcomes, and assessment data from submitted assessment “Plan” and “Results” reports.  During the early part of the Fall 2019 semester, the Nuventive team will also be working with our Faculty Professional Development and Teaching and Learning centers to design and deliver University-wide professional development workshops for academic and administrative assessment coordinators for operating the Nuventive system, initially for inputting and submitting 2019-20 annual assessment “Plan” reports.    

Finally, this summer, the Institutional Effectiveness area welcomed the services of a dedicated full-time Management Technician to improve sustainability of our University-wide assessment process. This technician will focus on data analysis, survey support services, and operations (e.g., report generation) related to the Nuventive assessment system.

Fall Semester Activities: A Review

February 11, 2019

The PennWest California accreditation webpages have been re-designed and updated as the “go-to” location of information related to Middle States regional and program-related accreditations. Resources at this site provide access to:

  • The Middle States Revised Standards of Accreditation.
  • PennWest California’s 2015-2020 Strategic Plan: Charting our Path.
  • A chronological listing of 10PennWest CaliforniaMiddle States reports and responses, including thePennWest California2010 Self-Study.
  • Our 2018 Self-Study Design document.
  • These periodic updates about thePennWest CaliforniaSelf-Study process.
  • A detailed listing ofPennWest Californiaacademic program recognitions, certifications and accreditations.

A productive fall 2018 semester occurred with various self-study organization meetings including the Steering Committee, seven Self-Study Working Groups, Compliance Committee, and Evidence Inventory Committee.  View the Self-Study Organizational Structure.

Work progressed toward a February 2019 deadline for the completion of the first draft of the seven Self-Study Work Group chapters, and progress also occurred with the Compliance Report and digital Evidence Inventory.   

The Steering Committee met four times, about every three weeks, to review progress for each self-study chapter. Work products of the fall semester Steering Committee meetings included a Middle States Self-Study Writing Team Template, a Middle States Self-Study Resources SharePoint group, an Evidence Inventory SharePoint group and a common message for the campus community for the primary purpose the self-study process. Business-style cards have been printed as an initial means of communicating the common message (front and back) to the greater university community. 

Self Study Business Cards.
Significant progress also occurred with the implementation of our revised University-wide institutional effectiveness (assessment) process during the fall 2018 semester. All academic programs and administrative programs/services in support of the student experience were verified from the University organization chart, along with each program coordinator and administrator. These leaders were asked to submit at least two program outcomes and methods of measuring each outcome by the middle of October to begin the first annual assessment cycle for compliance with the Middle States expectation of a University-wide “culture of assessment” at PennWest California.

The Office of Institutional Effectiveness also developed two Assessment Monitoring Tools (AMTs), one for academic programs and another for administrative programs and services. The ATMs provide progress snapshots for assessment assignments with green (completed), yellow (partially completed) and red (not submitted) progress ratings for each program and service in support of the student experience.

The overall goal prior to the Middle States peer review team arrival on campus in spring 2020 is green-status AMT ratings for the assessment of all programs and services throughout the University. View an executive summary of academic programs and administrative support areas as of February 18, 2019.

Performance data for all submitted outcomes were collected from October to the end of the fall semester and will continue to be collected during the Spring 2019 semester. Near the end of the spring semester, each program/service area will meet to close the assessment loop (e.g., to measure, evaluate and discuss the performance for each outcome) and provide a final report outlining changes that may be implemented to improve performance during the 2019-2020 academic year.

In February 2019, we began to prepare a PennWest California Institutional Assessment website to house the tools and resources needed for success in creating our campus “culture of assessment.” The link to this website will be provided during the next Campus Update.  

We also organized and delivered a “Best Practices for Standard V Assessment” workshop at the Convocation Center for more than 20 self-study faculty, staff, administrator and student team members, facilitated by Lindsey Graham Guinn, a seasoned Director of Assessment and Middle States Liaison Officer at Washington & Jefferson University.  Topics covered in this workshop included:

  • Overview of the MSCHE Process.
  • Systematic, Meaningful, and Useful Evidence of Assessment.
  • Measures – Direct and Indirect.
  • Clearly Stated Educational Goals.
  • Organized and Systematic Assessments – General Education Assessment to Course Evaluations to Department and Program Assessment.
  • Student Confidentiality and Other Assessment Policies.
  • Non-Curricular Assessment of Students through Surveys.

This workshop was considered a great success, with praise from the participants and many requests for continuing our relationship as a consultant to provide additional professional development opportunities and assistance with our ongoing effort to develop a culture of assessment at PennWest California.       

Minimalist Approach for All Departments and Programs

Sept. 18, 2018

  • All programs devlop SLOs (Student Learning Outcomes).
  • Focus on 1-2 outcomes per year.
  • At least 1 direct and 1 indirect measure.
  • End-of-year forums to address student performance on selected outcomes.
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses.
  • Plan for addressing weakness.
  • Document work.

Assessment Cycles, Timeline and Deliverables

Sept. 18, 2018

Assessment Cycles, Timeline and Deliverables (PDF)

2018-2019 Culture of Assessment Timeline

Sept. 18, 2018

View the Culture of Assessment Timeline (PDF)

President’s State of the University Address

Sept. 13, 2018

[The following is an excerpt from the State of the University address delivered by University President Geraldine M. Jones at the Fall 2018 Faculty-Staff Convocation held Sept. 13, 2018, in the Natali Student Center.]

 “Another highly collaborative process prepares us for Middle States re-accreditation and the campus wide peer evaluation visit scheduled for spring 2020.

“This fall our seven writing teams will be working on their initial self-study drafts. Their primary focus is to describe how academic and support areas across the University promote and support student success – defined by Middle States as student retention, completion and success after graduation.

“In order to achieve re-accreditation, Middle States requires all areas of the University to operate within a culture of assessment and improvement to promote student success. To meet this challenge, the assessment leadership team of Len Colelli, Steve Atkins, Holiday Adair and Justin Hackett worked all summer to develop a comprehensive assessment plan for the University.

“The new structure is designed to be systematic, useful and time-efficient for all involved – and the team is available to provide whatever assistance is needed to establish a culture of assessment across all program and service areas. The handout you received today includes a timeline and more information.

“Middle States accreditation is important to our standing in the higher education community, and I count on all of you to support the process with your best efforts and energy.”

Director of Institutional Effectiveness

June 5, 2018

Since late April, PennWest California’s self-study team has included Dr. Steve Atkins, the University’s first director of institutional effectiveness.

He will focus on program assessment, which is critical to the accreditation process: Each of the seven Middle States Standards of Accreditation requires the Self-Study Report Working Groups to address an assessment criterion, and Standard V focuses on how the University assesses its institution-wide assessment processes.

Atkins says his goal at PennWest California is make assessment “an understandable, consistent and sustainable process that is useful to faculty and staff. I also plan to facilitate a shift from accountability‐based assessment to a much more internally useful improvement‐based assessment program.”

Atkins comes to California from Punta Gorda, Fla., where he organized and managed a private higher education consulting company specializing in assessment, planning, institutional effectiveness, and accreditation.

He has more than 27 years of experience in four community and baccalaureate colleges, where he has been an adjunct professor of statistics, mathematics education, critical thinking, adult learning, research methodology and educational psychology; a tenure-track and tenured professor of mathematics; dean; and vice president for academic and student affairs.

Atkins earned his Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. He holds a master’s degree in mathematics from the University of North Carolina Charlotte, and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Elon University, also in North Carolina.

Self-Study Report

May 31, 2018

The University is preparing to develop a Self-Study Report for submission to a Peer Evaluation Team from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education; the team is expected to visit our campus during the Spring 2020 semester. The Self-Study Report is a major component of an eight-year institutional accreditation cycle designed to demonstrate our University’s commitment to continuous self-assessment.

The Self-Study Report is an inward-focused self-appraisal and institutional review by peers and colleagues assigned by the Middle States Commission to determine if our University:

  • Has a mission appropriate for higher education.
  • Is guided by well-defined and appropriate mission-related goals, including goals for student learning and success.
  • Has established processes, programs and procedures (aligned with mission and goals) that can be realized.
  • Is accomplishing its mission and goals in substantial measure.
  • Is organized, staffed and supported so that it can be expected to continue to accomplish its mission and goals.
  • Meets the seven Standards for Accreditation and 15 Requirements of Affiliation of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, along with relevant federal regulations.
  • Assesses both institutional effectiveness and student learning outcomes and uses assessment results for improvement.

The Self-Study Report includes an executive summary, introduction, seven chapters (one for each Standard of Accreditation) and a conclusion; it is limited to 100 single-spaced pages. Seven Working Groups were organized to develop the seven chapters of the report, addressing appropriate criteria, requirements of affiliation, and institutional priorities associated with each Standard of Accreditation. Each of the Working Groups consists of:

  • A faculty or staff co-chair.
  • An administrator co-chair.
  • Faculty representatives from each of the three undergraduate colleges (Education and Human Services, Liberal Arts, and Science and Technology.
  • A Student Affairs representative.
  • A SCUPA representative.
  • Student representatives from the Commuter Council, Black Student Union, Rainbow Alliance, Student Athletic Council, Student Activities Board, Graduate Office, Inter-Residence Hall Council, and Student Government Association.

The fourteen Working Group co-chairs also serve on the Self-Study Steering Committee with the director of institutional effectiveness, the four-member Oversight Team, a co-chair of the Compliance Committee and a member of the Council of Trustees.



Working Group Kick-Off Meetings

May 14, 2018

Seven self-study working group kick-off meetings occurred on campus during the last five weeks of the spring semester. Their purpose was to acquaint members within each group; discuss the purpose of the Self-Study Design document and its location on the accreditation webpage; review the organizational structural, timeline of critical activities, and charge of each group within the design document; and view an introductory educational video about the accreditation process prepared by the Middle States Commission.

Discussion also occurred about plans to best communicate with working group members; achieve the charge of each group; and make summer assignments to prepare for developing the initial draft of each Working Group’s chapter during the fall 2018 semester.  

Overall, the kick-off meetings seemed to go well. They generated lots of discussion and enthusiasm for the anticipated work of the seven Working Groups.


Final Self-Study Design Submission

May 1, 2018

PennWest California’s Self-Study Design document is a plan for guiding the Middle States Commission on Higher Education self-study process. It enables the Steering Committee and its Working Groups to conceptualize and organize relevant tasks for the development of the Self-Study Report.

Members of the Steering Committee and Working Groups continuously refer to the Self-Study Design document to gauge progress and ensure that the objectives contained in the design are being met in a timely manner. The design also serves as a reminder of what tasks must be accomplished, how and when updates should be communicated, and how the Self-Study Report should be organized. 

Feedback from Middle States liaison Dr. Ellie Fogarty, the Steering Committee, Council of Trustees and the campus community during the March 7 self-study preparation visit contributed to the final revision of the Self-Study Design.  The document was formally submitted to Fogarty on May 1, 2018. The document can be viewed at the accreditation website.



Self-Study Preparation Visit

March 7, 2018

A Self-Study Preparation Visit by Middle States Commission institutional liaison Dr. Ellie Fogarty occurred on March 7, 2018.  Fogarty’s purpose was to meet with various institutional stakeholders to discuss the accreditation process and our 2018 draft Self-Study Design document and to gather information about PennWest California. The Self-Study Design is the University’s plan for developing the Self-Study Report, which will address the seven Commission Standards of Accreditation, 15 Requirements of Affiliation, and our four Institutional Priorities to be addressed in the Self-Study.

Fogarty met with:

  • University President Geraldine Jones and her Cabinet.
  • The Middle States Self-Study Steering Committee, which consists of co-chairs (faculty and staff) for the seven Self-Study Working Groups (writing teams), and a four-member Oversight Team (Len Colelli, Dan Engstrom, James Pflugh and Justin Hackett) who participated in the November 2017 Middle States Self-Study Design Institute in Philadelphia.
  • Steve Atkins, director of institutional effectiveness.
  • Ayanna Lyles, faculty co-chair of the Compliance Committee.
  • James Davis, a member of the Council of Trustees.

After a working lunch with the Oversight Team, Fogarty hosted an open session with over 60 faculty, staff and students to explain the accreditation process; discuss the role of faculty, staff and students in the accreditation process; and answer questions. She then conducted an exit briefing with the Oversight Team, providing an analysis and review of the draft Self-Study Design Document. 

Finally, a discussion was held with the Council of Trustees on its role in the accreditation process. 

Feedback for the visit from our Middle States Commission liaison was positive.