Penn State and Middle States Commission

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As many know, I’ve been saying for weeks that the real “death penalty” for Penn State would be adverse action from its accrediting agency Middle States Commission on Higher Education. I am not advocating an accreditation loss or even probation. However, as a former reporter, I believe too many in the media are missing that story.

Another  story needing scrutiny is whether or not Penn State violated the Clery Act.

That said, The Philadelphia Inquirer and reporters Sue Snyder and Robert Moran and Associated Press reporter Kathy Matheson by-lined stories on Aug. 14 and 15, respectively. From Snyder’s story “Latest warning is unlikely to threaten Penn State’s accreditation”:

Even though Pennsylvania State University got yet another stern warning Monday, it is highly unlikely that the university will lose its accreditation as a result of the child sex-abuse scandal involving a former assistant football coach, national experts said.

“‘Unthinkable. Unimaginable,’ said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, which represents presidents of colleges and universities and leaders of other higher education-related organizations. ‘It’s a great university. Its academic quality is superb. . . . If I were a mother of a youngster who had been accepted to Penn State, there is nothing in this set of events that would cause me to have second thoughts about the choice of school.’

“The warning by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education that Penn State’s accreditation was ‘in jeopardy’ is ‘standard protocol’ for an accreditation agency,’ she said.

“In addition to academic quality, the agency also requires universities to meet standards regarding financial health, adequate board governance, and institutional integrity, and Penn State will have to address such issues in answering the commission’s warning.

“It also must comply with federal laws, such as the Clery Act, which requires that universities provide accurate and timely reports of crime on their campuses. The U.S. Department of Education is trying to determine whether the university violated the Clery Act.”

Matheson wrote:

Higher education experts say an accreditation warning issued to Penn State is serious and appropriate given the issues raised by a recent child sex-abuse scandal, but the school is unlikely to lose its accreditation.

They also expect the university to comply quickly with demands to show its governance, finances and integrity meet standards set by its accreditation agency.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education issued the warning last week based on the school’s handling of molestation allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Judith Eaton, president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, said Tuesday that it’s highly unlikely Penn State will end up on probation or lose its accreditation.

Students cannot use federal funds , including Pell grants and government loans , to attend unaccredited schools.

Moran’s lead summarizes Penn State’s reaction, well:

“An accrediting body has warned Pennsylvania State University that its status ‘is in jeopardy’ following recent developments in the Jerry Sandusky scandal and that it needs to take steps to preserve its accreditation.

“University leaders expressed confidence Monday that Penn State would address all the concerns expressed by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

“‘This action has nothing to do with the quality of education our students receive. Middle States is focusing on governance, integrity, and financial issues related to information in the Freeh report and other items related to our current situation,’ said Blannie Bowen, vice provost for academic affairs.”

I do not profess to be a higher education accreditation expert. However, from personal experience I know that a college or university can lose its accreditation for something other than academics. The North Central Association of Colleges and Universities literally put Parsons (Iowa) College out of business by revoking its accreditation because Parsons over extended itself financially.

Parsons records are archived at the University of Iowa. The campus is now Maharishi University of Management.

The NCAA sanctions are nothing compared to a Middle States’ action.. I’m sure the media will stay on that and news about possible Clery violations.

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