U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Accreditation in Jeopardy?

Photo: U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
Photo: U.S. Merchant Marine Academy

A review of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy’s educational accreditation has prompted the Middle States Commission on Higher Education to issue a warning to the school that its accreditation may be in jeopardy for non-compliance in certain areas, although the Academy says it is already working to rectify the issues. 

The warning was issued by the MSCHE following a mandatory self-study review and MSCHE evaluation team visit during the 2015-16 academic year. 

“Today the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) issued their expected determination regarding accreditation, and while they found the Academy’s academic foundation is sound, and in many ways exemplary, they issued a warning with recommendations regarding two broad areas separate from academics: combatting sexual harassment and assault, particularly during Sea Year; and governance of the USMMA,” the Academy wrote in a reaccreditation update released June 30.

Accredited institutions are required to engage in an 18-24 month period of self-study at least once every 10 years intended to demonstrate institutional compliance with accreditation standards and to promote institutional improvement.

The warning was provided in a letter by the MSCHE to Superintendent Helis stating in part: 

At its session on June 23, 20 16, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education acted:

To warn the institution that its accreditation may be in jeopardy because of insufficient evidence that the institution is currently in compliance with Requirement of Affiliation 7 (Institutional Planning), Standard 2 (Planning, Resources, and Institutional Renewal), Standard 3 (Institutional Resources), Standard 4 (Leadership and Governance), Standard 5 (Administration), and Standard 9 (Student Support Services).

At this time the Academy remains accredited while it “works with MSCHE to address the requirements and recommendations, and ensure the highest caliber education for the Academy’s Midshipmen.”

A reaccreditation update from the Merchant Marine Academy continued: 

The MSCHE Evaluation Team’s assessment also found “noteworthy achievements in the following areas: admissions; achievement of the licensing component of the institutional mission; the Advisory Board’s assessment reports; the Sea Year; progress on developing a formal and integrated leader development program; and assistance provided to department and course-level assessment.”  In fact the most recent incoming classes at USMMA are the most diverse in its history, and the most qualified.  Further, in each of the last three years, Kings Point graduates have had record “pass” rates in the grueling four-day U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Marine Officer licensing exam.

The Academy said it has two years to reach compliance, adding “we are confident that we can return to compliance within that span of time.”

The MSCHE has requested a monitoring report due March 1, 2017 documenting evidence that the Academy has achieved and can sustain compliance with the requirements cited in the warning letter.

An earlier letter from Superintendent Helis to the President of the MSCHE, Dr. Elizabeth Sibolski, written in response to a MSCHE draft report, stated:

We have already begun to implement the requirements and recommendations in the final Evaluation Team Report necessary to improve the Academy’s performance and meet the MSCHE standards for accreditation. In particular, the incidences of sexual assault and harassment have been of acute concern to me and my leadership team since I arrived at USMMA in 2012. While we have established a program based on best practices from the other Federal academies and across higher education, we recognize the need to bring fundamental change to the culture of USMMA and create a safe environment and an atmosphere of mutual respect that allows each Midshipman to grow and thrive.

The warning comes amid USMMA’s move to suspend Sea Year for Midshipmen as part of a wider effort to combat sexual harassment and sexual assault both on campus and off, and to ensure “an appropriate training and work environment for the Midshipmen,” a USMMA spokesman wrote in an email to gCaptain earlier this month.

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