Amid a review of the University of Maryland’s accreditation, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education has placed the university on warning.

The commission initiated an accreditation review in November as the university grappled to manage the fallout from football player Jordan McNair’s death in the spring of 2018.


Here are a few things to know about the warning and 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, composed 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.

What does it mean to be placed on warning?

While the commission was reviewing the university’s accreditation, a visiting team of experts identified concerns over the institution’s compliance with one of the standards for accreditation — Standard VII, which covers governance, leadership and administration. Specifically, commission chair Margaret McMenamin said in a statement that transparency of the university’s governance structure was in question.

The concerns were significant enough that the commission placed the institution on warning, meaning University of Maryland officials must submit a monitoring report by March 1, 2020. The report must demonstrate that the university has a clearly articulated and transparent governance structure that outlines roles, responsibilities and accountability for decision making by each constituency and has periodic assessment of the effectiveness of governance, leadership and administration.

While a warning might sound ominous, commission representative Brian Kirschner said it’s a sign the regulatory entity feels the university can come back into compliance within the correct time frame. Alternatively, the commission could opt to place an institution on probation — which signals concern whether the university can come into compliance. It could also ask the university to show cause — meaning the institution has to prove why it should not lose accreditation.

The University of Maryland remains accredited while on warning, but must host a commission liaison in the fall to discuss the commission’s expectations. Another team of experts will also visit the university following the submission of the report, McMenamin said in the statement.

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.

More than an hour passed between the time University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair started displaying initial heatstroke symptoms and when university officials called 911, sports medicine consultant Dr. Rod Walters said at a news conference Friday.

Kirschner said staff asked for the supplemental information 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 Baltimore Sun has obtained a copy of the roughly 200-page investigative report probing the University of Maryland football program’s culture following allegations that the team was ruled by an atmosphere of bullying and intimidation.

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.

An independent review of the University of Maryland’s football program stopped short of calling the program’s culture “toxic,” as alleged in multiple media reports, but it did find there was a “culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out.”

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.