Keene State College has been an accredited school for more than 70 years and is hoping to continue that tradition.
Keene State recently finished its decennial report for the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) and is looking to receive continued accreditation from the commision.
Program Coordinator Kimberly Schmidl-Gagne said NECHE is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to provide accreditation to colleges and universities in the region. NECHE tests schools and evaluates them based on nine criteria. NECHE then formulates a visiting committee of eight members with each member being assigned one of those criteria, and one person is in charge of two. Some of these criteria include students, teaching, learning and scholarship, educational effectiveness and integrity, transparency and public disclosure. Schmidl-Gagne said that an institution such as Keene State can only receive federal financial funding if it is accredited.
Keene State College President Melinda Treadwell said that in order to evaluate a school, NECHE formulates teams that are made up of site visitors from colleges and universities with expertise in the specific areas that they are addressing. Those brought together to form a visiting team by NECHE and NECHE staff work in support of the team during the visit and afterwards to complete reports and submissions to the commission.
President Treadwell said that while Keene State would have normally been evaluated in person, because of the current pandemic, the visiting committee had to do so through Zoom. Despite the unique experience, Treadwell said she doesn’t think it hurt the college’s chances at continued accreditation.
“We were casual and friendly,” Treadwell said. “We were efficient, we stayed safe and I don’t think it was a detriment. I think the commission had lots to say about the culture we have here. I think they were impressed with our structure as well. I don’t anticipate any hesitancy with accreditation.”
Schmidl-Gagne also said she thinks the college did well.
“I think we did a great job,” Schmidl-Gagne said. “I think it was challenging that it was virtual. I would not be surprised if they asked us to report back on things because nobody’s perfect. There’s always room for improvement.”
The Chair of the Visiting Committee and New College of Florida President Dr. Donal O’Shea said the virtual environment for evaluation went much better than he had anticipated, however he thinks the experience would have been better in-person.
“It’s too bad, I would have liked to go there,” O’Shea said. “It would have been nice to meet new people. We were in a group of 30 online, so it was hard to see expressions, but Keene did a great job.” O’Shea said he looked at some of the courses and programs being offered at Keene State as well as whether students are being taken care of and getting their money’s worth
.“Keene is reputable and they are not short-changing their students,” O’Shea said.
O’Shea added that he was impressed with the college’s openness.
“Keene State is very forthcoming, they’re not trying to hide anything,” O’Shea said. “They’re very honest about their problems; it’s admirable.”
O’Shea noted that he was impressed that Keene State makes it easy to see the credentials of its faculty. He said it’s easy to see who is teaching what class and what degrees they have.
President O’Shea added that New College of Florida will have their own virtual report in April of 2021.
Schmidl-Gagne said Keene State will receive a document from the visiting team about strengths and areas of improvement. They will make edits if necessary and submit the final report back to NECHE.
President Treeadwell will then go before the commission and speak to them. Schmidl-Gagne said it will likely be May of 2021 when Keene State receives the final letter on how it went. Schmidl-Gagne said that from that point, it’s up to the institution on whether they want to post the results or not, but Keene State will post their results.
“I have nephews and nieces that are headed to college and I always say to look at the self-study,” Schmidl-Gagne said. “It tells you so much about the health, well-being and focus of an institution. It’s a great resource for students to have access to.”
President Treadwell said she thinks it’s imperative for those records to be publicly posted. “When students go to school they should be able to read about strengths and weaknesses of schools,” Treadwell said. “It in no way demonstrates weakness, it demonstrates hard work. Any institution I’m involved in will make those public.”
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