University of Maryland's accreditation is under review. What does that mean?

Amid fallout at the University of Maryland this week, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education’s has confirmed it will review the university’s accreditation at its meeting later this month.

The commission confirmed plans for a review this week as the university experiences upheaval stemming from football player Jordan McNair’s death in the spring.

Here’s a few things to know about accreditation.

What is accreditation and who gives it?

Accreditation is the stamp of approval that allows Maryland students to receive federal financial aid. For universities in the state of Maryland, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education is the unpaid entity tasked with regulating accreditation. The commission, comprised of both members of the public and administrators, is publicly nominated and voted to their positions by the more than 500 accredited members within the middle states.

Why is the University of Maryland having its accreditation reviewed?

The University of Maryland was asked by commission staff to turn in a supplemental information report Sept. 14, addressing “recent developments at the institution which may have implications for current and future compliance” regarding ethics and integrity and the support of the student experience.

A representative of the commission, Brian Kirschner, said staff asked for the university of the report after seeing multiple news reports over the summer. Following the death of football player Jordan McNair, the university has received criticism for its response and seen an upheaval in leadership.

What does an accreditation review look like?

The commission decides whether to “re-affirm” a university’s accreditation every eight years, with a less formal peer review occurring around the fourth year.

The University of Maryland’s accreditation was last reaffirmed in 2017, meaning that the commission’s decision to review the university this year is considered “out of cycle monitoring.”

Out of cycle monitoring occurs if there are concerns over affiliation, policies, procedures or federal compliance requirements, according to commission procedures.

During the review, the commission might refer to outside sources including news media reports, other accreditors, publicly available data or complaints or ask a university to provide information, such as in a supplemental information report.

The commission could then opt to issue a notice of noncompliance that includes a process which could lead to termination of accreditation — or it could take no action at all, Kirschner said.

When an institution is given a notice of noncompliance, they start a two-year deadline by the end of which the university must show the commission they’ve come back in compliance, Kirschner said.

What happens if the University of Maryland loses its accreditation?

If the university lost its accreditation, students would no longer be eligible for federal financial aid. More than two-thirds of students at College Park are offered financial aid each year, with an average package worth $11,813, according to the College Board. About a third of students receive federal loans, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Accreditation also makes the transfer process for students easier, Kirschner said.

An institution can apply to regain its accreditation once two years have passed from the time accreditation is removed.

How often does this happen?

This is the second time this year that the 29-member Middle States commission had requested an information report from the university. The first time was in January, related to reports of a Title IX investigation into sexual assaults. The commission accepted the report in June and took no action.

Two other Maryland universities have had their accreditation withdrawn — Baltimore International College and Sojourner-Douglass College.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jean Marbella contributed to this article.

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