Middle States Accreditation, SEAS Update Highlight Faculty Senate Meeting

Executive Vice President and Treasurer Louis Katz presents on debt strategy at final meeting of academic year.

Lou Katz
Executive Vice President and Treasurer Louis Katz presented Friday on the university’s debt strategy. (William Atkins/GW Today)
May 09, 2016

Professor of Religion Paul Duff presented on the George Washington University’s accreditation process at Friday’s Faculty Senate meeting.

The presentation outlined GW’s accreditation for the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)—a voluntary membership association of colleges and universities located mostly in the mid-Atlantic region.

Institutions in MSCHE’s jurisdiction conduct accrediting activities on a 10-year cycle. The process involves a self-study, a campus visit from a team of academics and administrators from other institutions who have read the self study and a ruling on the accreditation status of the institution. MSCHE accreditation applies across the university, regardless of accreditation processes for individual schools or programs.

“I know a lot of the professional schools and programs do have their own accreditation processes,” said Dr. Duff, co-chair of the steering committee that will create GW’s self-study. “This is a different animal. That’s not to say that what goes on in the business school for its accreditation is totally disconnected with what we’re doing with Middle States. Hopefully, we can use the information they find, and hopefully, they can use the information we find. But it is a separate process.”

It will be an open process, he said.

“We want this to be a transparent process,” Dr. Duff said. “We want the university community to be involved. We would like broad participation in the process. We want everyone to know about this, and we want as many people as possible to be involved.”

Timeline for accreditation

Dr. Duff briefly outlined the timeline for MSCHE accreditation. He and steering committee co-chair Cheryl Beil, associate provost for academic planning and assessment, attended the MSCHE Self-Study Institute last fall. The full steering committee—and eight working groups formed by that committee—was created this spring.

The working groups will begin their analyses for the self-study this fall and will have an initial draft in spring 2017, Dr. Duff said. That draft will undergo revisions and will be sent to the chair of the visiting team in fall 2017. The process will finish in early summer 2018.

All 10 GW schools are represented on either the steering committee or working groups. The working groups correspond to seven MSCHE accreditation standards:

  • Mission and goals
  • Ethics and integrity
  • Design and delivery of student learning experience
  • Support of student learning experience
  • Educational effectiveness assessment
  • Planning, resources and institutional improvement
  • Governance, leadership and administration

The eighth group, Dr. Duff said, will verify that the institution is in compliance with accreditation-relevant federal regulations.

Engineering update

Friday’s meeting, led by President Steven Knapp, was the final of the academic semester and featured a presentation from School of Engineering and Applied Science Dean David Dolling.

Dr. Dolling spoke of advances in SEAS over the past few years, including the opening of Science and Engineering Hall in March 2015, the installation of cardiovascular disease researcher Igor Efimov as the Alisann and Terry Collins Professor in April 2015 and the installation of Ahmed Louri as the David and Marilyn Karlgaard Professor last September.

“[SEH] is the key enabler of the vision we have,” Dr. Dolling said. “The promise of SEH allowed us to recruit great faculty and students even when it was a hole in the ground. The designed intent has played out. It’s driven up research productivity, reputation, expenditures and alumni investment in the school dramatically.”

Annual research expenditures are on the rise, Dr. Dolling said. Female undergraduate enrollment (38 percent) is nearly double the national average. Retention of students also has increased.

“We’re now retaining around 90 percent of the freshmen into their sophomore year. Nationally it’s around 70 percent, so we’re way ahead of what’s being done at many schools.”

Debt strategy

Executive Vice President and Treasurer Louis Katz presented Friday on the university’s debt strategy. It is a strategy aimed at investing capital in projects that will enhance GW, he said.

“The whole debt strategy is not to just go out and issue debt in the public markets,” he said. “The debt we issue is to invest in the quality of the institution. It includes many academic buildings and residence halls. The strategy also is to ensure the majority of the debt has a specific revenue source so that we’re not putting pressure on the tuition side of the institution.”

Some of that revenue is generated by the university’s valuable investment properties that help provide revenue for capital projects, Mr. Katz said. Revenue from the Avenue—a mixed-use development on the site of the old GW Hospital—was used to partially fund the SEH construction project, for example.

Talk Friday eventually pivoted to the university budget and GW’s net cash flow.

The university experienced a decline in graduate enrollments and did not reduce expenses at the same rates that enrollments dropped, Mr. Katz said. That led to a short-term operating budget shortfall. The problem has been addressed, Mr. Katz said.

“We’re happy to report that the graduate enrollment prospects look very good,” he said. “We believe, from operations, there will be a positive cash flow this year of around $25 million.”

That margin is a little tighter than in previous years, Mr. Katz said, because of the increasing need for financial aid.

“If you were to look back five years ago, that number would have been more like $50 million,” he said. “We are predicting that the need for financial aid is going to continue to grow, which means your net tuition margins are going to continue to shrink.”

That is one of two reasons GW will continue to make reductions in the central administration despite the rebound in graduate enrollments, Dr. Knapp said.

“We are doing this for two reasons: one is our concern about the growing need for financial support for undergraduates, which reduces net tuition revenue that we have to pay for the central administration,” Dr. Knapp said. “The second has to do with our deliberate steps to decentralize our revenue control by giving the deans more control over revenues for graduate programs, off-campus programs and online programs.”

Closing remarks

Interim Provost Forrest Maltzman announced Friday that Shelly Heller will be stepping down from her position as associate provost for academic affairs for the Mount Vernon Campus. Dr. Heller, a professor in the computer science department, will remain a member of the GW faculty.

Dr. Knapp highlighted the NEXT exhibition at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design and previewed the university’s May 15 Commencement ceremony. He also recognized Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Dianne Martin, who announced her retirement in April.

Faculty Senate Executive Committee Chair Charles Garris read a senate resolution for Dr. Martin, who has held numerous leadership roles at GW, including chair of the Department of Computer Science, director of the Cyber Security Policy and Research Institute and associate vice president for graduate studies and academic affairs.

“I want to join everyone else in thanking Dianne for her extraordinary service,” Dr. Knapp said. “We all wish her the best in her retirement.”