A draft of Amherst’s self-study, the first step in the process of renewing accreditation with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), was sent to members of the college community for feedback on Feb. 9.
The process of reaccreditation began in Feb. 2016 when the Steering Committee on Reaccreditation, which is made up of a variety of administrators, faculty and staff, was first formed, according to Amherst’s reaccreditation website. Over the past two years, data on all aspects of the college have been collected and compiled into a 140-page draft.
NEASC requires the self-study to look at nine standards in particular, according to Dean of Faculty Catherine Epstein, who is one of the members of the committee. Some of these standards are Academic Program, Educational Effectiveness and Institutional Resources. The reaccreditation process happens every 10 years.
The draft includes data on the college’s faculty, major distribution, student body and campus organizations.
Since 2007, around the time that the last study was completed, the percentage of tenure-line faculty has decreased by about 1 percent, although Amherst is still about even with peer institutions.
Although there has been an increase in the enrollment in STEM fields, women continue to be underrepresented in the math and statistics departments. According to the study however, “more Amherst women than ever before are graduating with a degree in this field. The trend in mathematics course enrollments shows even greater gender parity.”
Additionally, varsity athletic teams remain less racially and socioeconomically diverse as compared to the student body as a whole, although Amherst has the most racially diverse athletic program in NESCAC, according to the study.
While the document did show room for improvement in certain areas, it also highlighted some of the college’s accomplishments over the past 10 years.
Some of these accomplishments include exceeding the school’s fundraising goal by $77 million, expanding financial aid offerings and building the Greenway residence halls.
Generally, Amherst continues to graduate a large number of students in the humanities, and the study reports that the school has the highest percentage of humanities majors among peer schools. Despite this, enrollment in STEM fields has increased by 61 percent over the past decade, partially due to an increase of 200 students in the college’s overall population.
“We were struck by the depth and breadth of the work that the college has done over the past decade — identifying needs, developing plans, launching initiatives, and accomplishing goals across the institution — while identifying work that remains to be done,” Epstein said. “The self-study demonstrates that Amherst remains dedicated to critical and open self-evaluation and is a college in motion — not one resting on its laurels.”
Since sending the study to the community the committee has not received much feedback, mostly minor grammatical or factual errors, according to Epstein.
The next step in the process will be an evaluation of the college by a team of outside investigators. This group is headed by President of Brandeis University Ronald Liebowitz and includes a variety of other people from peer institutions. The team will visit later this year and then submit their evaluation and recommendations, according to Epstein.
While it is unlikely that Amherst will not be reaccredited, Epstein still believes that it is a valuable process.
“By virtually every metric, Amherst is a stellar institution, and I have no doubt that we are meeting the standards for accreditation,” she said. “The accreditation process takes a tremendous amount of time and effort, but it results in a significant level of internal and external self-reflection that is valuable at many levels. The college is succeeding on many fronts, but we also know that there are areas in which we need to improve.”