Why does accreditation matter?
The Middle States Commission is our secular accreditor, which offers our master’s degrees certain credibility and enables many of our joint degrees with partner institutions. The Association of Theological Schools is our guild accreditor, which enables us to serve a variety of denominational traditions in the training of pastors. However, accreditation not only communicates to the outside world that our degrees are accountable to certain benchmarks, it also invites us the periodic opportunity to explore, examine, and speak into how well we feel we are living into our mission as institution. In keeping with our Reformed heritage, the accreditation invites us to listen to our constituents and ourselves, name the truth about what we discover, deepen the strengths we find, and repair the issues that we discover. Accreditation is one way to make space to live the call to be Reformed and always reforming as a community.
What is the accreditation process?
Accreditation takes place every 8 to 10 years, and requires the collaboration of the entire PTS community. While the co-chairs of the Self-Study Committee help organize the process and later assemble the necessary report, Working Groups comprised of staff, students, and faculty create an ordered plan to explore questions related to the standards set forth by both the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and The Association of Theological Schools and to keep the community apprised of the process and what is being learned.
As they begin working on the plan they have designed (called the “Self-Study Design”), they will be reaching out to even more members of the community for documentation and conversation around the standards named by our accreditors as well the three priorities that the community has identified through prior conversations with faculty, staff, and Cabinet.
Working Groups will then analyze the materials they received and document the conversations they have, creating a comprehensive picture of the current state of PTS, along with how we relate to the standards and our priorities, and suggestions for how we might increase our efficiency and faithfulness to our mission in the future. This final document will be compiled and shared with our peer accreditors for the Middle States visit in April of 2023 and the ATS visit in September 2023. From there the accreditors will evaluate us for accreditation, and we should hear back from Middle States in the second half of 2023 and from ATS in 2024.
What are the standards?
The Middle States Standards are fully articulated here, but fall under the following headings:
- Mission and Goals
- Ethics and Integrity
- Design and Delivery of the Student Learning Experience
- Support of the Student Experience
- Educational Effectiveness Assessment
- Planning, Resources, and Institutional Improvement
- Governance, Leadership, and Administration
The Association of Theological Schools Standards are fully articulated here, but fall under the following headings:
- Mission and Integrity
- Planning and Evaluation
- Student Learning and Formation
- Master’s Degree Programs
- Doctoral Degree Programs
- Library and Information Services
- Student Services
- Governance and Administration
- Institutional Resources
What are our chosen three priorities?
Strengthen an institutional culture that prioritizes formative practices leading to student success.
PTS will identify and assess the range of practices that shape our common life and culture, for example, worship, communal meals, reflective pedagogical practices, mentoring within and outside the institution, intellectual inquiry, and community engagement. We will assess how practices form and equip students for success academically, professionally, spiritually, and interpersonally. Measures will include placement rates, ordination exam success, and evidence of self-awareness and leadership capacity. Practices will be evaluated for depth and consistency of participation, and their impact will be tracked across all programs of the institution. The investment of resources dedicated to formative practices and the engagement of students across the institution will be explored, assessed, and adjusted to empower increased student success.
Strengthen institutional effectiveness through transparent communication, systems and procedures for accountability, and the use of data to inform decision making.
PTS students are formed in community, so they are formed by the way the PTS community communicates, holds itself accountable, and makes decisions. This self-study will clarify the flow of power and responsibility and orient it, along with the flow of information, toward a dynamic, trustworthy, and empowering institutional culture. Structures for individual and communal accountability will be expanded, standardized, and clarified to foster both trust and collaboration across departments and at various institutional levels. These structures will include professional review processes, procedures for aligning institutional, departmental and individual employee goals, a strategic budgeting process, and goals tailored for each department based on the budgeting cycle. We will evaluate our processes of collecting and disseminating appropriate data, whether qualitative, quantitative, direct, and/or indirect, toward the goals of informed decision making and institutional effectiveness. Continued clarity around data and its use will enable PTS to act in well-aligned ways to be more agile, effective, and empowered as a student-serving institution. Given this, we will continue to assess the efficiency of our internal and external communication in order to build trust and enable collaboration across the institution to promote student success.
Cultivate, evaluate, and extend relationships with external partners and stakeholders.
PTS will connect in generative ways to relevant external partners and foster connections between internal stakeholders and those partners. Partnerships will be leveraged not only to prepare students for success beyond their time at PTS, but to offer a variety of formative perspectives for their learning in real time as a part of their studies. Forming and maintaining broad partnerships will facilitate intellectual freedom and content area specialization while supporting the particularity of student experience. As PTS makes partnership decisions across the institution, various offices will be empowered to initiate, maintain, and assess partnerships in a way that reflects emerging institutional identity, student needs, and community values as articulated through appropriate channels of governance. Effective student service will be empowered across the institution through mapping where partnership decisions are currently made and by what metrics, evaluating which partnerships are thriving and generative, and discerning which are no longer helpful or appropriate. Dynamic and trusting partnerships with organizations such as judicatories, national denominational offices, local non-profits, community organizations, feeder churches, and local colleges and universities enable support for prospective students through program graduates. A working knowledge of the network of institutional partners will enable PTS to connect students, faculty, and staff with appropriate partners and align institutional movement strategically, leveraging connections for the good of PTS students in service to our mission.
These institutional priorities align with the PTS Mission statement in the following ways:
|Elements of Mission Statement||
Priority 1Strengthen an institutional culture that prioritizes formative practices leading to student success.
Priority 2Strengthen institutional effectiveness through transparent communication, systems and procedures for accountability and the use of data to inform decision making.
Priority 3Cultivate, evaluate, and extend relationships with external partners and stakeholders.
|Participating in God’s ongoing mission in the world||X|
|A community of Christ||X||X|
|Forming and equipping for ministries and communities present and future||X||X||X|
Can you help me understand the Self-Study Design Proposal?
Section I: Institutional Overview
This section orients our accreditors to PTS, our history, our particulars, our story, and our recent transitions, trials, and triumphs.
Section II: Institutional Priorities to be Addressed in the Self-Study
This is where we introduce the three priorities we selected across the community as we prepared for this self-study. In conversation with staff, faculty, cabinet, and Board, we established the three priorities not as strategic goals (we will have more than three of those), but as areas of focus for this study, so that we might better understand and practice the commitments named therein, in our common life.
Section III: Intended Outcomes of the Self-Study
These are our institutional goals as we undertake this process. Certainly we hope to be re-accredited (that is one of the goals!), but in keeping with our commitment to both living and working faithfully, we hope that this process with find us not only achieving things, but practicing collaborating as the seminary community we are called to be as well.
Section IV: Self Study Approach
In the Middle States Accreditation process, you can choose to be assessed on the standards they name, or you can name your own institutional priorities and show how you meet the standards through those priorities. PTS has chosen the “standards” approach, at the recommendation of our liaison to Middle States and because it allows us to focus on living the fundamentals well in a season of so much transition.
Section V: Organizational Structure of the Steering Committee and Working Groups
This section reflects who is participating on in the Self-Study process in formal ways, what particular tasks they are charged with and in relationship to which Middle States standards, and what questions (or “Lines of Inquiry”) they will be exploring to articulate those standards at PTS. It lists the Self-Study Committee co-chairs, the Communication Committee, the Working Group Chairs and members. Not named here are all the other stakeholders in the institution who will also collaborate on this process—those who will share evidence or offer reflection to the working groups as they seek information and documentation, those who will help us manage the IT side of this process, those who will take on extra work as their colleagues step way to manage this process, students who will offer feedback, board members who will offer encouragement, even you, humble reader, whose learning on this topic may well bear fruit in a conversation with our accreditors when they come to visit in April and September of 2023.
Section VI: Guidelines for Reporting
This section explores the form that the Working Group process will take, how they will share their findings with the Self-Study Committee, and in what time frame.
Section VII: Organization of the Final Self-Study Report
This section outlines what the final Self-Study Report to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education will look like in order to give the various teams working on that final product a sense of what they are building toward.
Section VIII: Verification of Compliance Strategy
This section particularly addresses who will collect the relevant documentation of our compliance to the accreditation-relevant federal regulations named by Middle States, as well as how that data will be collected.
Section IX: Self-Study Timetable
The section gives an arc and overview of the accreditation process, to help the reader see where we are in the accreditation process at any point.
Section X: Communication Plan
This section maps how the Self-Study Committee will communicate to the broader seminary community the progress, findings, and conclusions of the Self-Study process.
Section XI: Evaluation Team Profile
This section describes what sort of leaders, from what sort of institutions we will want to conduct our Self-Study visit. We are seeking leaders who would understand the sort of school we are and the particular issues we are facing. This section gives a sense of our peer schools, as well as the areas we hope to illuminate further with our Self-Study process.
Section XII: Evidence Inventory
This section describes who will manage the data collected in the process and how it will be organized both for analysis by our Working Groups and for submission to our Middle States accreditors.
May 1, 2022
Source: Community News, May 2022, for employees and shared with Board
The Self-Study investigators are continuing to explore big questions, vision ways to do what we do better, and consider the PTS mission statement: Participating in God’s ongoing mission in the world, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary is a community of Christ joining in the Spirit’s work of forming and equipping people for ministries familiar and yet to unfold and communities present and yet to be gathered. Members of the PTS community should have received an invitation to participate in focus group conversations to inform that work. If you are able, please take part of in these conversations. As all this work starts to coalesce into chapters of our Self-Study, a draft of which will be shared for comment over the summer. Please take time to read what the team has learned and share your feedback. Along with the writing work, the Committee is also starting to plan for our formal Accreditation visits. The chair of our Accreditation Team, Fr. Edward Mazich, will be coming for a preliminary visit Oct. 11, 2022, and will work with PTS at that time to prepare for a full Accreditation Team visit the following spring. In the meantime, think about your role in the institution, how your work supports the mission statement, and what questions you have about this process that the Self-Study Steering Committee can help answer as the Seminary looks forward to the visits. As theses grow closer, you will hear more from the Committee about how it will all be preparing together as a community as well. For now, thank you for all the good work you have done already, working with colleagues, sharing your stories, and preparing the Committee to share our stories with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and the Association of Theological Schools.
April 1, 2022
Source: Community News, April 2022, for employees and shared with Board
The PTS Accreditation Working Groups are continuing the good work of Self-Study, and many staff are fielding questions and evidence requests from the investigators of those groups regarding their various areas of work. This information gathering informs the documentation we will share with our accreditors, but it also helps us to understand some of the good work our colleagues are doing. In addition to the evidence gathering, in February and March, the Self- Study Communications team shared a survey with staff, students, faculty, and Board members to start a conversation about PTS’s mission statement and the process of self-study. Because of such strong participation from the community, we have excellent data to reflect where we are in our self-knowledge as a community, and where we might benefit from further work. As the Self-Study continues, please keep your eyes peeled for more ways to participate. You can read more about the Self-Study process with some background and regular updates at www.pts.edu/Accreditation, and we look forward to sharing our preliminary self-study work for community review in late spring and early summer. After that period, we will host the chair of our Accreditation Team in the fall in preparation for the full accreditation team visit in the spring. Between now and then we invite you to review the mission statement that this self-study continues to return us to, and to consider the work before us to become one accredited, effective, and engaged seminary.
March 1, 2022
Source: Community News, March 2022, for employees and shared with Board
Our accreditation self-study process is continuing, and evidence files are filling up, as Seminary staff, faculty, and administration share the ins and outs of their work with each other. The Self-Study Steering Committee and Working Groups are beginning to see how our whole system works together. As you likely saw, a survey went out recently to see how the community is thinking about the self-study process, how clear the schedule ahead of us is, and how well we are doing as a community at knowing our mission statement. That survey marks a midway point in our study process, as evidence collection continues through the Spring. After evidence collection and the exploration of our “Lines of Inquiry,” or questions about ourselves, is complete, all we have learned will be compiled into one document, which we share with our accreditors detailing how well we are meeting the standards they name. That document will be circulated so that all in the community can read and comment before it is edited into its final form, and shared with our accreditors before their visit. We hope you will keep following this process and participate in each step as you are able. The goal is to be ready so that when our accreditors come for their visit, any one of us will be able tell the story of PTS, our mission, and our institutional goals.
Feb. 2, 2022
Source: Community News, February 2022, for employees and shared with Board
Pittsburgh Seminary Self-Study Begins!
As the new year ramps up, your Self-Study Working Groups have gotten to work collecting information from a variety of a departments, learning more about our institutional processes and how we live out our mission. The Self-Study committee is leading the effort, and following the plan and timeline that Middle States approved for us in fall 2021. For the next several months, data will be collected, stories will be shared, and clarity will be gained. Thank you to those who have shared records and stories and wisdom already, and to those we have yet to reach out to, we hope you will share the particular wisdom of your department with us as we come to ask. As we do this work together, we know that the strength of our study (and thus any learning or ideas gained from that work) will depend on the voices that guide the process. We are glad that the PTS community is in this together and grateful for your willingness to help guide the work.
Jan. 9, 2022
From: Associate Dean Ayana Teter
Students Share on the PTS Accreditation Process
As a second-year M.Div student, I’m deeply invested in making sure Pittsburgh Theological Seminary has a successful future, which may sound odd considering I’m a remote student. I’ve never lived in Pennsylvania, nor do I intend to, but this institution has had a special place in my heart going back years before I was a full-time student. Our most famous alum, Fred Rogers, had a global impact on the minds and hearts of everyday people, and there’s no reason why his cherished seminary should strive for anything less. Covid may temporarily dampen the vibrancy of campus life, but God is doing a new thing by expanding the seminary’s borders far beyond the city of Pittsburgh. How thoroughly our leaders have embraced the future of learning shaped by the pandemic is already ushering in a new vibrancy as students from around the world start to receive the excellent education that for so long was limited to those near campus.
This pride I feel in the education I’m receiving and my optimism for the seminary’s future is the reason I answered the call to serve on the steering committee for our re-accreditation. The self-study is at once a requirement and an opportunity. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education requires institutions to show proof that what they say they do is actually what they have been doing. But for any institution worth the weight of its degrees, that should be a pretty low bar to clear. The opportunity afforded in such an audit is that institution gets to reflect on what it discovers about itself so that it can become a better version of itself. Is that not what we already do as God’s people? So, over the next year, as elements of the self-study draw near you, or draw you in for a time, I ask you to join me in embracing the opportunity to be a part of the journey the seminary is taking. Together, we can ensure it is well-positioned to keep reaching students for the cause of Christ, wherever they might be in the world.
Andy Hill, Second Year MDi. Student, Student Member of the Institutional Self-Study Team
Dec. 1, 2021
Sources: Community News, December 2021, for employees and shared with Board; President's Communique, December 2021, for friends and alums of the Seminary
Middle States and Association of Theological Schools Reaccreditation Updates
Pittsburgh Seminary is embarking on an 18-month journey of self-study as part of our decennial accreditation process with our secular and guild accreditation bodies, Middle States Commission on Higher Education and The Association of Theological Schools, respectively. The self-study is an institution-wide self-examination of our effectiveness in executing our educational mission. In November, the Seminary received from Middle States formal approval of our self-study design and commended our self-study steering committee for thorough and engaging work. With this approval, we are clear to begin the self-study process that will guide us for the next year. The Seminary’s self-study process guarantees the quality of the theological education we provide. We will provide updates as the process continues.
Nov. 23, 2021
Source: E-mail from President Lee to staff and faculty
As we prepare to adjourn for the Thanksgiving holiday, I write with a bit of good news. Yesterday evening Leanna and I received a communique from Dr. Terrance Peavy, our Middle States liaison for the self-study and accreditation process. In that letter, he provided us with the formal approval of our self-study design and commended our self-study steering committee for thorough and engaging work. With this approval, we are clear to begin the self-study process that will guide us for the next year.
I cannot stress how proud I am of the work that our steering committee has done. Major thanks to Dr. Angela Hancock and Rev. Karen Rohrer for outstanding leadership and for getting us started and across the first, of what will be many, finish lines.
Collectively, there is still much work to do, but for now, we can pat ourselves on the back for catching up and being on time and on schedule for our reaccreditation work.
Please have a happy and safe Thanksgiving Holiday and blessings to each of you.
Nov. 1, 2021
Source: Community News, November 2021, for employees and shared with Board
Middle State and Associate of Theological Schools Reaccreditation Updates
On Nov. 5, our Middle States liaison, Dr. Terence Peavy, will be with us for our “readiness visit”—a series of virtual meetings about the Self-Study and re-accreditation process. From 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. there will be an open session for students, staff, and faculty to hear more about reaccreditation. Dr. Peavy will discuss the role of faculty, staff, and students in the Self-Study process and answer any questions about the Self-Study specifically or Middle States re-accreditation more generally. Please consider dropping in to be a part of the conversation! Check your PTS e-mail for the Zoom link.
Oct. 1, 2021
Source: Community News October 2021, for employees and shared with Board
Middle State and Associate of Theological Schools Reaccreditation Updates
The self-study process is officially underway! The self-study steering committee began meeting in September and is hard at work on a self-study design for PTS. The design will be presented to our Middle States liaison officers in November, and then the tasks of gathering evidence and drafting reports will begin in earnest. The members of the self-study steering committee are as follows: Angela Hancock (Steering Committee Co-Chair), Karen Rohrer (Steering Committee Co-Chair), Edwin van Driel, Barbara Blodgett, Erin Davenport, Tracy Riggle Young, Ken Woo, Nancy Lowmaster (Board member and alum), Allan Irizarry-Graves (Board member and alum), Sarita Robinson (student), Andy Hill (student), and Holly McKelvey.
Sept. 30, 2021
Source: E-mail from President Lee to staff and faculty
As you have heard over the last few weeks, PTS is embarking on a 18 month journey of self-study as part of our decennial accreditation process with our secular and guild accreditation bodies. The self-study is an institution wide self-examination of our effectiveness in executing our educational mission. To facilitate this work, a self-study steering committee has been assembled and staffed to guide us through this process. Dr. Angela Hancock and Rev. Karen Rohrer are co-chairs of this committee and will begin this week rolling out engagement of this process.
As members of this community, it is important that we all take part of this work. Some of you may be receiving emails inviting you to participate more directly in the work groups of the self-study. The cabinet and I have done work preparing managers and supervisors to allow for greater flexibility around accomplishing the work of the self-study. So if you receive an invitation, I am asking that you consult with your supervisor or department leader in order to find a way for you to accept this invitation to be part of this important work of assessment.
Even if you do not receive a direct invitation to participate, we all are invested in the successful completion of the self-study in order to be reaffirmed in our accreditation.
Thank you for your willingness to serve in this way and for your commitment to our mission.
Sept. 1, 2021
Source: Community News, September 2021, for employees and shared with Board
Middle State and Associate of Theological Schools Reaccreditation Updates
In 2023, PTS will be seeking reaccreditation from both the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) and the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). That sounds like a long way away - but in order for us to reach important benchmarks in both reaccreditation processes, our work must begin in earnest now. This institution-wide project will be guided by a Self-Study Committee, which will include faculty, staff, Board members, and students. The Self-Study Committee will oversee specific sub-committees, each of which will work on gathering evidence to show how we are meeting particular MSCHE and ATS standards. Between now and 2023, almost everyone at PTS will be involved in the self-study process. Although it will be a lot of work, it will also be a unique opportunity