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Frostburg State University gets accreditation warning

Frostburg State University has been warned that its accreditation could be in jeopardy if it does not improve how it assesses learning and use those results to improve its curriculum.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which accredits colleges in Maryland, said it placed the Western Maryland school on "warn" status at its meeting June 23. The university remains accredited while it works to address the problems identified by the commission.

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"When the commission warns an institution, it believes that, although the institution is out of compliance, the institution has the capacity both to make appropriate improvements within a reasonable period and to sustain itself in the long term," Richard J. Pokrass, a commission spokesman, said in an email.

Frostburg President Ronald Nowaczyk, who took over the job in May, said he is confident the university can demonstrate it is meeting those standards and said officials had begun working on monitoring reports due to the commission in March.

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"What they are asking us to demonstrate is that we're doing continuous improvement, that we're continually monitoring how we're doing as an institution and using that to make improvements at the university," Nowaczyk said.

The Middle States Commission, which typically releases few details, said the school was out of compliance with accreditation standards on institutional assessment and general education.

The college was directed to develop "a documented, organized, and sustained institutional effectiveness assessment process, with evidence that assessment information is used to improve programs, services, and processes and is shared and discussed with appropriate constituents," according to a public disclosure statement by the commission.

The university also is expected to assess "general education outcomes with evidence that assessment results are utilized for curricular improvement."

Nowaczyk said the college was asked to better assess whether students are learning the required coursework in general education classes. For instance, the school should be able to prove that students in a communications class are learning critical thinking and writing skills. The college also needs to demonstrate that if students were not learning the proper skills, officials would adjust the curriculum accordingly.

"We feel very confident that this is something we can address," Nowaczyk said.

The warning came as part of a 10-year reaccreditation process that every institution goes through. Middle States Commission representatives visited the campus in March.

The university, located in Allegany County, has nearly 6,000 students. More than a third of its undergraduates are from Baltimore and its suburbs.

Other Maryland colleges have received warnings from the commission in recent years. St. Mary's College of Maryland was placed on warn status in March until it improves student assessment. Baltimore City Community College had its accreditation reaffirmed last year after being warned in 2014 about a host of problems, including the lack of a solid strategic plan.

A warning is the least serious action the commission can take against a college's accreditation and indicates that the panel believes the problems are fixable.

Colleges that lose accreditation typically shut down because their students are no longer eligible for federal financial aid. Many employers will not accept degrees from colleges that are not accredited.

The Middle States Commission has revoked accreditation a few times in its nearly 100-year history. In 2014, it revoked the accreditation of Sojourner-Douglass College in Baltimore, known for its nursing program, because of financial management problems that included millions of dollars in tax liens. The school closed last year.

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Sojourner-Douglass fought to reverse the commission's decision with a lawsuit filed last year in federal district court, contending that the decision was arbitrary and capricious. In May, the judge ruled against Sojourner-Douglass, which has appealed the ruling.

In 2011, the commission revoked the accreditation of Baltimore International College, a private institution that taught cooking skills and hospitality management.

A liaison from the commission will visit Frostburg soon to discuss what the commission expects.

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