By MELISSA PILEIRO
In college, and in the search for a job that follows, credentials are everything. Employers put potential workers under a microscope, ultimately deciding if their skills will benefit not only the employer, but society in general. This scrutinizing process isn’t just for the workforce, however. Colleges all over the country go through something similar, and students and staff at CCC are gearing up for the biggest evaluation in the Northeast. Its outcome will determine whether or not Cumberland is making the grade, and the decision will affect the entire campus community.
The evaluation, part of the accrediting process with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, is one that Cumberland has always passed without problems, and will likely continue to. However, in order to do well, it requires hard work from students and staff, with preparations that begin years before the actual evaluating takes place.
Dr. Bob Clark sees Middle States from both sides; while working as an instructor in the Science Department, he also serves as an evaluator for the conference. The idea behind the evaluations, he said, is to determine how well a college or university meets 14 criteria that cover everything from curriculum and academic integrity to teaching styles and even building designs. The main purpose of Middle States, Dr. Clark said, is to “make sure that the institution is doing what it says it’s doing, and that the students are learning what the school says they are.”
How does the evaluation work? The process is split up into two parts, and continues over a span of ten years. The college completes a self-study throughout the ten-year period where it examines its strengths and weaknesses, split up by a written follow-up review sent to Middle States every five years. This is to ensure that the campus is continuing to meet its goals between visits. The next visit from an evaluating team with be in 2011, but because so much is involved, preparations are beginning on campus this year. There is too much at stake to waste time or give less than our best effort: Dr. Clark stressed that “without accreditation, we’re not a college. Degrees won’t transfer.”
The main element of the self-study is—surprise—an extensive research paper that covers each of Middle States’ 14 criteria. This paper is written by a committee of students and staff members that are divided into smaller sub-committees, each one focusing on a particular point of the evaluation. Their reports, once finished, are combined and sent to Middle States before their visit. During the visit, classes are observed, and students and staff are interviewed. Some time after the 3-day evaluation, Middle States will send a series of observations, along with their recommendations for improvement, if necessary.
It may seem like getting accredited is something that students have no control over, but Dr. Clark said that the student body plays a big part in ensuring the college does well. “We work closely with the Student Senate to decide [voluntary] appointments to the sub-committees. The best thing students can do is stay informed,” he said. Information regarding the process will always be available on the college website at www.cccnj.edu. “I’d really like student input. We’ll take their opinions as seriously as anyone else’s.”