Middle States Commission on Higher Education and the Accreditation of Ming Chuan University

Many universities in Taiwan are currently implementing programs with the purpose of attracting foreign students and developing networks with foreign schools. The most frequent strategy has been the use of English-medium degree programs aimed at students for the most part from underdeveloped nations; offering them good quality education at an attractive price. I have written about the iMBA at National Cheng Kung University and described the strategic policies used by Dean of Business Dr. Henry Wu to promote this program. Using data provided by Dr. Wang Jin-Long and Dr. Nathan Liu, I have also written about international programs at Ming Chuan University.

In this post, I want to write about some of the ground-breaking work going on at Ming Chuan that will transform the kind of education we offer. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that if all goes as planned, what is happening now will have a significant and lasting affect on all post-secondary education in Taiwan. Over the next few years, Ming Chuan will be seeking accreditation through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), a USA-based accreditation body. While there are individual departments at Taiwan and Asian universities that have accreditation from professional bodies in particular academic fields, no university has accreditation from an America-based accreditation body. When this process is completed, it will make MCU the first school in Taiwan and East Asia to have accreditation of this type. In fact, it is much stronger statement than even that. Outside of a handful of Spanish-medium universities in the American territory Puerto Rico, there is no other non-English medium institution in the world that has such accreditation.

Introduction to Accreditation

Historically, the title of ‘university’ has been awarded after examination by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China. To meet this standard, the Ministry has historically audited schools to assure they meet the guidelines described in the ROC University Act and other related legislation. Ming Chuan has, of course, been granted the right to use the title ‘university’ by the MOE, but, in fact, this examination is more like licensing than accreditation. So, in addition to this licensing from the MOE, MCU hopes to attain recognition from an external body based in the United States, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education or MSCHE is one of the ‘Big Six’ regional accreditation organizations. Founded in 1919, the MSCHE is a voluntary organization composed of colleges and universities of the middle states region. Its members include what are basically the major public and private post-secondary institutions within this region. In addition to this, the MSCHE has chosen to take on the accreditation of institutions outside the political borders of the United States, including institutions in Europe and the Middle East.

Accreditation from the MSCHE is in many ways a matter of common sense. You can read all about the process in documents contained on their website, but in particular, I recommend Candidacy Handbook for Applicants and Candidates for Accreditation and The Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education. Central to this process is the mission statement of an institution and the institutions accountability to this. For example, is it possible for the school, given the resources and structure at their disposal, to realistically achieve that mission. Seattle University is accredited by the Big Six, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. The website of the school identifies the school’s mission in a rather long statement that you can view here. The fact that Seattle University has received Northwest Commission accreditation points to their assessment that the school is realistically capable of achieving this mission.

Keep in mind that accreditation is not a guarantee of quality. It is more like a statement of accountability; that the school can be and is accountable to its mission statement.

MSCHE Accreditation at Ming Chuan University

Currently, Ming Chuan is in the process of preparing its application for candidacy for membership in the MSCHE. This is the first step in attaining full membership. The key person in MCU’s application is Executive Vice-President Robert Yien. On January 24, I spoke with Dr. Yien about the accreditation process and what it will do for the school. Dr. Yien is the former Vice-President of Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) in Michigan. He was born and raised in Taiwan, but after completing a PhD at Michigan State University, he was offered an appointment at SVSU. Through Dr. Yien’s presence, SVSU has developed strong connections with Taiwan and over the years has educated hundreds of Taiwanese alumni. MCU currently maintains its own formal connections with SVSU that are reflected in among other things the exchange program between Saginaw Valley State University and Ming Chuan University.

While working as a professor at SVSU, Dr. Yien was invited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Universities (HLC), one of the ‘Big Six’ accreditation agencies, to take part in their special training course for examiners and subsequently to be an examiner for them. On behalf of the HLC, Dr. Yien has taken part in the examination of over 40 universities in the United States. It would be safe to say there is no ROC citizen or Mandarin-speaking person in the world with more knowledge of the American accreditation system than Dr. Yien.

Following a chance meeting at an academic conference in Taiwan, Dr. Yien was invited by Ming Chuan University president Dr. Chuan Lee to assist us in our application for accreditation through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

What Will MSCHE Accreditation Do For MCU?

The process of application for membership in a US-based accreditation body is long, complex, and costly. The benefits would have to be substantial to make it worthwhile. Dr. Yien explained to me the significant and lasting affects accreditation holds for students at Ming Chuan.

Perhaps the most important advantage attained from accreditation is course equivalency. Currently, students who have studied at a Taiwanese university have great difficulty getting their courses recognized in American and Canadian universities. For example, if a Taiwanese student wants to study at a university in British Columbia, Canada, graduates of some universities can apply for programs on the basis of their degree completion. While BC schools recognize some degrees as equivalent, the degrees of other schools are not accepted.

But this does still not completely solve the problems of many students. Many professional programs have course requirements. Taiwanese students can either retake these courses or petition individual schools to recognize what they think may be equivalent courses they’ve taken. Of course, the students themselves would be responsible for the cost and trouble of translating documents.

Accreditation from the MSCHE would solve all this. A course in macroeconomics at MCU would be recognized as equivalent to macroeconomics at other member schools of the MSCHE. This does not mean students could automatically transfer from one institution to another, but it does mean that MCU students who have permission to transfer or take courses at another MSCHE school would have a much easier time having their status accessed completely and quickly by the new institution.

In a sense, the effect of MSCHE accreditation is to provide MCU with a much stronger tie to the US school system. It appears to me that after the completion of accreditation, it will be a simpler task for a qualified MCU student to take courses or finish their degree at a university in America than at another university in Taiwan.

The Time Schedule

Obtaining MSCHE accreditation is not a simple task. Even under the best conditions, the accreditation process is complex and detailed. At MCU, the language barrier adds another dimension of difficulty. All the accreditation documents are in English and all documents submitted to the MSCHE must also be written or translated into English.

The target date for MCU to receive status as a full candidate for MSCHE membership is 2008 June. Full membership is targeted for within a year of that. Ming Chuan began the journey for MSCHE accreditation back in 2006 June. In September of last year, MSCHE sent an examiner to MCU for 4 days. He indicated that MCU should move ahead with preparation for application for accreditation. Over the next few years, MCU aims to complete MSCHE self-assessment and self-study that determine how well the school meets their standards. The target date for the comprehensive evaluation from the MSCHE is scheduled for 2008 September or October and a final judgment on our suitability for candidacy will come within 60 days. If all goes well, by 2009, MCU will be eligible for a 5-year full accreditation.

If you take a look at the self-assessment and self-study documents I have linked to, one of the obvious aspects is the huge amount of time it will take to assure the standard is met. In addition to the time involved in preparing the documentation, etc, Dr. Yien estimates the process will cost Ming Chuan $US1.5 million

Reflections

I know your first thoughts; this is another one of those exercises in futility that Taiwan universities and bureaucracy are so well known for. Work, work, work and then nothing changes. Don’t think this hadn’t crossed my mind. And in fact, we will all have to wait and see what the final result is.

But I have admit, sitting there talking with Dr. Yien, it all sounded extremely exciting. The thought of working at an institution doing work that seems ground-breaking, not just for Taiwan but for the entire non-English-speaking world, is fantastic.

I have read through most of the pertinent documents on the MSCHE website and I see no reason why MCU won’t be granted accreditation. I also believe that in the hands of Dr. Yien, we have the best guidance possible. I am as skeptical as anyone about whether this really will transform our school into something different from other Taiwan universities. But I think it is entirely possible this is the first step in to a more competitive, more exciting future.

March 11, 2007 | Permalink
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Comments

I read this entry with particular interest because I’m actually writing my thesis on international ed & internationalization now (I’m with the UBC Faculty of Education). This accreditation initiative does sound interesting but I can’t help but ask if you or anyone at MCU have EVER critically reflect on the hegemony behind all this?? Sure it would be great for an American institution to recognize MCU credits, but that is a superficial, bureaucratic procedure. There are deeper sociological / political issues at stake here. Why is a stronger link to an American university or accreditation body beneficial? It sounds to me like handing over the reins of academic freedom to some imperial / colonial gatekeeper.

It’s almost a desperate plea, “We are nothing unless we are certified by USA or some other English-speaking agency. Please please accredit us!” Heck, is this not like the Michellin guide rating restaurants around the world except now we’re certifying higher education. I’m so tired of watching universities in non-English-speaking nations measure & validate themselves thru such neocolonialist procedures. It’s a mass hysteria that few scholars ever question and critically reflect.

You wrote:
“The thought of working at an institution doing work that seems ground-breaking, not just for Taiwan but for the entire non-English-speaking world, is fantastic.”

What is ground-breaking about this? I also would be very hesitant to make sweeping generalizations about higher education in non-English-speaking world. There are countless initiatives that are far more ground-breaking than kow towing to a foreign agency for accreditation.

Sorry to be so negative, but I do find your blog fascinating but expected more of a critical viewpoint on an issue like this.

Posted by: zocalo | March 12, 2007 at 00:36

zocalo, there’s no need to worry about your tone. I appreciate your honesty and emotion. On the other hand, you have to be prepared for a hard response.

In many ways your comment seems naive. Accreditation is a process that emerged in the USA because of the lack of centralized government control. It is a system of quality assurance similar to other processes like licensing, auditing, or ISO. As far as I know, universities in no other country practice accreditation. For example, universities in Taiwan are licensed in a process not at all like accreditation. This is true in Canada, as well.

From the point of view of international education, accreditation is a superior process of quality assurance. As such, MCU is trying to follow a superior process of quality assurance developed in the USA. THE SAME IS TRUE IN CANADA! Please note this last point. At least one school I know of, Capilano College in North Vancouver is seeking accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Officials at the school told me the reason was that international students can recognize this as mark of quality.

The sad but true reality of international education is that quality has not been able to keep up with demand. In a sense, there is as desperate plea here, but it’s not the one that you think. Rather, the problem is that Taiwan’s MOE can not meet the demand from ROC citizens and maintain any sense of quality. Many of the new schools opened recently have the same standards as what I have termed ‘Third World’ schools; they will accept anybody and pass everybody, all the time. You can pretend what you want, but I wouldn’t attend most of these schools and I doubt you would. All the talk about “neocolonialism” and “hegemony” is graduate school rhetoric that you need to get through a program, but the reality of students making choices is that they need outside assurances of quality.

MCU will be the first school accredited outside the USA and its territories that uses a non-English language as its medium of business. I think that’s pretty need. It will certainly provide foreign students in the vastly crowded market with a better sense of quality guarantee than what we or any school in Taiwan now have.

Please let me know more about the “ground-breaking initiatives” you refer to. Readers have written me about a number of what they thought were such. I have not been impressed with anything I’ve seen, but admittedly my knowledge in this area is weak. I’d like to hear more.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | March 12, 2007 at 12:02

Hi Scott,

Glad to hear your response on this. Quality assurance is without a doubt important, but I question about the politics behind all this. What constitutes good quality? Who decides?

Certainly there are lots of low quality schools in Taiwan, but isn’t this problem prevalent in higher education everywhere else? Philip Altbach writes a lot about globalization and education. He points out that the vast majority of higher ed institutions in USA are in fact 2nd rate. Only a few universities in US are really top notch. Yesterday I just read a research article slamming the University of Phoenix which has a shocking enrollment of about 200,000 students in 40+ campuses spread over 29 states plus Puerto Rico and Vancouver, BC. Univ Phoenix was also recently in the news with federal govt threatening to withdrawl funding due to low quality and student complaints. Are you aware that Univ Phoenix accepts about 90% of all applicants? So I think it is important to recognize that low quality is not a problem exclusive to developing countries (or the South, or “Third World”).

You mentioned Capilano College in Vancouver. I’m from Vancouver , so I know this school quite well and also personally have friends who attend this school. I’m afraid to say that this is really a 2nd rate if not 3rd rate school. It’s not even the leading small college in Vancouver. I would not let my kids attend this school regardless how many accreditations they have. I wasn’t even aware they were going for US accreditation, and I work with international students at UBC. Are international students really knowledgeable about such obscured accreditations? If anything, I would think word of mouth has a greater impact. Vancouver is a mecca for international students and so many of them choose schools based on word of mouth advice from family/friends (lots of research surveys also confirm this).

The talk about hegemony is not just an exercise in academic speak. Yes, it is very hard to resist American/European influences in higher education, but if we don’t reflect critically and ask hard questions as academics who would? … certainly not the students, parents, or even teachers.

Ground breaking initiatives… Where do I begin? I’m not sure if you are familiar with the Bologna Declaration in Europe which is creating drastic reforms in higher ed. There are countless student mobility programs, scholarships, credit transfer schemes, twinning programs, multilateral grad programs involving multiple countries, research partnerships, etc. It’s not all rosy of course, but it is definitely very ambitious because European higher education has probably never undergone such drastic changes…and involving so many countries. I just don’t see how applying for accreditation from a foreign body indicates ground-breaking at all. Personally, I am more impressed by creative initiatives that are internally driven rather than subscribing to values/frameworks from an outside body.

Thanks for the exchange of thoughts here.

Posted by: zocalo | March 12, 2007 at 18:11

Interesting post, Scott, but I wanted to point out that, as far as recruitment of “foreign” (i.e., non-Taiwanese) students goes, to my knowledge the brunt of most universities’ efforts is at attracted Hua-qiao, ABC, and overseas Chinese students. This was true when I was a student at a certain national university here, and it is true at the current institution where I work.

Our school has nearly 8000 regular students and approximately 20 “foreign students.” Of these only 2 are from so-called ‘third world’ countries. One from Africa and one from Russia. As for accomodating them with English instruction our school has done a terrible job (mainly because my colleagues, and I’m sure yours too, are too busy, unable, or unwilling to teach in English).

And so, the next point. The reason why schools in American/Canada don’t recognize degrees from Taiwanese schools is simply because the education students receive here is not very good and thoroughly useless for the most part. This is proven by the fact that, upon graduation, students who wish to pursue a graduate degree at 研究所X must go back to a buxiban to “bu” (enhance) their knowledge of basic subjects like Math, English, Science, etc. so that they can pass the national exams.

Which brings up the question of Taiwanese schools enhancing their “ties to the US school system”. Given what I’ve seen of this system, I’m not at all convinced that the US should “lower the bar” a bit and offer recognition to Taiwan universities.

Education is a serious business, after all, and if Taiwan’s schools don’t make muster I see no reason why the overall quality of the US system should suffer (by spreading the gospel of easy accreditation it would suffer, I maintain). Point is–the sanctity of the liberal education comes before the importance of the recognition racket.

I know this sounds probably sounds harsh, but I honestly think that Taiwanese education has a very long way to go before it can begin to even dare think of measuring up to US standards. (We can compare curriculae, faculty, resources, etc. any time, after all. In every case and in every aspect the Taiwanese schools will come up way short).

Best,

N057

Posted by: nostalgiphile | March 12, 2007 at 19:08

zocalo,

I suggest that you read more widely on my blog. I have written extensively about problems with both the UOP and for-profit education. I am not a big supporter of the industry, as my regular readers all know. And it is certainly not what I am referring to when I talk about quality education.

I’m a little flabbergasted by your comment about Capilano College. You can say what you want, but you are doing so with the privillage of holding a passport from one of those imperialist nations you talk about. The reality of the world is that your words demonstrate the elite status from which you are writing. Not even most BC residents are able to attend institutions better than Capilano, so I’m not sure how relevant anything you’re writing about is for those who hold passports only from countries with power and financial problems.

I don’t really understand what the relevance of the Bologna Declaration could be for Ming Chuan University. We have a problem. We operate within the sphere of influence of the ROC Ministry of Education. As such, we can not guaruntee anything to students from either Taiwan or those other countries whose citizens lack financial or political access to the best brand name universities. MOE licensing has so clearly failed as a guaruntee of anything to students that schools with higher goals must look elsewhere.

In fact, I am surprised that with the radical message you appear to support, you have bought so completely into the concept of name brand education. But then Capilano College is so far beneath you and your family. Clearly your message is not intended for the vast majority of people in the world.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | March 12, 2007 at 19:22

nostrophile,

Your infoformation on foreign students is slightly out-dated. I don’t know what school you teach at, but almost all the foreign students in Taiwan are enrolled at NTU, NCKU, NCCU, and MCU. I suggest you check my post from Oct 2006 about international education at Ming Chuan and also my interview with Dean Henry Wu at National Cheng Kung University.

It has been true in the past the KMT used access to university as a way of demonstrating that Taipei was the real capital of China. This is no longer true. Almost none of the students enrolled in any of the English-taught programs at NCKU, NCCU, or MCU are overseas Chinese. It is not true at NCJU, NCCU, or MCU. I do not have information about NTU, but I doubt it’s true there.

I don’t find your comments harsh so much as I find them inaccurate. It is NOT correct that Western universities do not recognize degrees from Taiwanese universities. In fact, this happens all the time. Taipei City mayor Ma Ying Jeou attended NTU then Harvard. The recognition of Taiwan degrees at Western universities is routine. My point was that there there is no direct transfer system for credits between the two systems. Accreditation will change all that.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | March 12, 2007 at 19:32

Scott,

I think there’s a number of points that must be raised:

1. The other three universities you mention having large numbers of foreign students are top national universities. The norm for private universities is, has been raised by contributors to this thread, about 0.1% of the student population coming from overseas.
2. Yes, Ma did go to Harvard. Lots of Taiwanese have gone to good US universites, and they prior to going to the US graduated from the top national universities, i.e places recognised by name at least in the elitist world of higher education. So, to turn the argument around how many MCU students are at Harvard, or have been to Harvard? How many graduates from private universities in Taiwan? Easy, zero.
3. An interesting point to the thread is why is a private university in Taiwan pushing for US accredition? Why not the national ones (if its so ground breaking) and so easy to obtain?
4. You mention describing the process as ‘ground breaking’. It will only be ground breaking if the process comes off. From what I gather it has a snow balls chance in hell. At present private universities do not have the standards required to meet international expectations. Private universities more often than not, from both the perspective of students and teachers, provide mediocrity as opposed to opportunities to excel oneself. This is in part however a consequence of skewed financial resources with national unis collecting most MOE coffers.
5. Another point not examined in the thread – will the accredition process genuinely benefit all MCU graduates should it come off? I can guarantee that the process has been undertaken as it is seen as a means of attracting US students to Taiwan – hence it has been done by a private university who has found a niche via its International College but moreover a saturation point under the system of attracting overseas (re Asian) Chinese and Africans. Accreditation is a way to get Chinese as a Second Language more widely taught, and ideally to US students outside the confines of handshakes with extremely provincial US colleges of little name….oops, we’re back again to the elitist issue.
6. MCU as I have already said has a niche thanks to its International College. By reinforcing this niche, in theory through accredition, it sustains their existence in light of MOE money being carved amongst a growing number of hands and declining birth rate.

Posted by: Ian | March 13, 2007 at 17:57

Ian, while I always appreciate your comments, it’s not clear where this one is going other than the same place that nostalgiphile went: Taiwan education is bad, especially at MCU. That’s clearly your opinion, as you left Taiwan last year, but admittedly it does put you at a distance from where all the information is.

I could systematically go through your points and answer them, but I’m not sure how much good that would do. There seems to be a more fundamental problem with your reading of my post. For example, point 3 implies that I said accreditation is easy to obtain.. In fact, I said the exact opposite. ”Obtaining MSCHE accreditation is not a simple task. Even under the best conditions, the accreditation process is complex and detailed.” were my exact words. This was a main point and obviously stated. Your failure to note this and conclusion that I said the exact opposite makes me wonder if you gave the post more than a glance and are instead relying on a gut feeling that Taiwan university all bad.

One point I am willing to address is your disbelief that accreditation could be granted to a Taiwan private university like MCU. A fact that I mentioned in my post that also seems to have been missed is that a number of individual departments in both national and private universities have already received accreditation from international professional accreditation organizations. Your doubt in our ability to finish the process implies a certain knowledge of what accreditation is and what is and is not possible. I have read almost all the documents on the website of the MSCHE that pertain to the process. Dr. Yien would be a leading authority on the procedure. I wonder if you could elaborate on your knowledge of the accreditation process and let me know exactly where the problem is, I can make sure that Dr. Yien hears about this.

But in all honestly Ian, I don’t think you have a clear picture of either what I said or what accreditation really is. While I don’t mind spending more time answering your questions directly because some of them raise interesting points, it might be better if you had another look at the post.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | March 13, 2007 at 22:27

I’m very pleased to read that you hold Taiwanese education so highly. However two points of note. Firstly, just because someone has stopped teaching in Taiwan doesn’t automatically make the education system bad there in their mind! I maybe left Taiwan for different reasons. Secondly, just because someone is not in Taiwan doesn’t mean they can’t be privy to detailed information. Indeed my comments on the accreditation process and its anticipated failure was based on comments directly made by one of your superiors in an email. However I’ll refrain from elaborating in light of your response to my earlier posting with its retort that I quite clearly know nothing. I therefore look forward to enlightening myself given your critical analysis of the subject, your knowledge of the accreditation process, closeness to Dr Yien and my obvious failings. I won’t be posting again though.

Posted by: Ian | March 13, 2007 at 23:44

I’m so tired of watching universities in non-English-speaking nations measure & validate themselves thru such neocolonialist procedures.

What’s interesting is how this idea of “neocolonialism” is constructed. Let’s imagine that we were not looking at education but, say, electronics manufacture. Would you argue that it is neocolonialist for Taiwanese or Vietnamese producers to go to Europe, Japan, and the US to copy manufacturing techniques and designs? Probably not, since that is where the best work is done, and where the markets are.

It’s not “neocolonialist” to go where the perceived best is. It’s what countries do when they want to improve their production processes, including knowledge production. It only becomes “neocolonialist” when someone attempts to fit it into a a priori framework of the way reality works. Heck, it’s a lot easier to argue the other way ’round, that Taiwan is exploiting the US and accreditation procedures to gain itself merit it does not deserve — in other words, that the exploitation runs in the other direction.

Michael

Posted by: Michael Turton | March 16, 2007 at 11:43

I’m very interested in seeing how this works out, how the process is carried out, and what the results and evaluations are. Keep us posted, man.

Michael

Posted by: Michael Turton | March 16, 2007 at 11:44

Michael, thank you very much for raising this point. It is an excellent point and key to understanding what’s going on in the larger picture of scholarship on exported technology. If you copy semiconductor manufacturing, it’s clever being Asians. If you copy an educational system, it’s American colonialism.

I too am getting tired of the double standard I am often confronted on issues like this. In a comment from this writer that I unposted, he went on to refer to me as one of those foreigners who come here and tell Asians how to fix their schools. I found this ironic, since this project was suggested by MCU president Dr. Lee Chuan and the source of my information is Dr. Robert Yien, both of whom are Taiwanese.

I can’t say this will work, or even that if it works. it will work the way Dr. Lee wants. But I’ll be sure to everyone posted.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | March 16, 2007 at 15:43

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One Response to “Middle States Commission on Higher Education and the Accreditation of Ming Chuan University”

  1. Alternative Models of Higher Education « Scott Sommers’ Taiwan Blog Says:

    […] to shed Taiwan universities of some of the problems inherent in this system have taken the form of adopting Western educational practices (also here).This is not because there are no local models available, but because they methods fail […]

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