By Lisa Powers, Penn State
UNIVERSITY PARK – Penn State is in full compliance with all accreditation requirements, according to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), which has lifted its ‘warning’ and Thursday reaffirmed the University’s accreditation.
While Penn State’s accreditation always remained intact, the University was put on warning by MSCHE on Aug. 8, based on the fallout from the sexual abuse scandal involving retired former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
“When notified of the warning we were confident we could verify our ongoing commitment to integrity, stable leadership and financial security — the areas that Middle States had questioned. I’m grateful that these areas of strength have now been validated by Middle States,” said Penn State President Rodney Erickson. “While the excellence of our educational programs was never in question, it is reassuring that Middle States continues to recognize Penn State as a world-class academic institution that is stepping up to meet its current challenges.”
In reaffirming Penn State’s accreditation, the commission requested a monitoring report, due Nov. 1, 2013, documenting the University’s continued progress in implementing leadership and governance reforms, and in addressing financial obligations related to the current situation.
Middle States evaluators visited the University in mid-October. Led by William E. “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor for the University System of Maryland, the evaluating team determined that Penn State is responding appropriately to the leadership, governance and financial challenges created by the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. The evaluation team’s report states it is “impressed by the degree to which Penn State has risen, as a strong campus community, to the sad events that led to its placement on ‘warning’ status by the MSCHE.” It also said Penn State’s process to respond to the Freeh recommendations has been “thorough, inclusive, systematic and timely.”
The Middle States site-visit report said that Penn State meets all quality standards for accreditation, commending the University’s resilience, fiscal stability and rapid change in the face of numerous challenges.
The commission’s notification in August followed the release of the Freeh Report and $60 million in fines and sanctions levied by the NCAA. The Freeh Report, the result of an independent internal investigation, made 119 recommendations to strengthen University policies and performance in areas such as safety and governance.
The evaluators also commended the entire Penn State community for “its response to tragic events in a way that, to date, has emphasized unity and positive change over recrimination.”
The commission also examined the University’s capacity and plans for addressing financial obligations related to not only the sanctions, but also potential lawsuits from victims and other costs associated with the scandal. To date, the University has expended more than $20 million on the Freeh study and other related costs.
“It is fortunate that Penn State has been fiscally conservative for a number of years — the institution’s fiscal stability is supported as well by Penn State’s continuing success in securing external research support and in private fundraising, as well as by the University’s ongoing ability to attract a strong pool of student applicants, none of which appears to have been impacted negatively by the events of the last year,” the report stated.
The evaluation team also noted that Penn State has broad insurance coverage that should provide a source of funding for much of the costs associated with settling lawsuits and related costs.
“Since August, we have worked vigorously to document all that we have done and are doing to meet the Freeh recommendations and the standards of the MSCHE,” said Erickson. “Currently, we are nearly half of the way through responding to and addressing those 119 recommendations.”
Other notable areas of the team evaluation that impacted the commission’s decision were:
— Swift changes made in leadership positions both within the Board of Trustees and among key administrative officers;
— Changes to Board structure and processes;
— Efforts to increase awareness of child abuse and sexual assault across the University;
— The creation of new positions to ensure campus knowledge of and compliance with laws and regulations; and
— The development and revision of numerous policies to address concerns related to integrity.
For more information on the Middle States process and recent actions relative to the University, visit online.