Penn State Faces Accreditation Review

Penn State University suffered one of the harshest penalties ever handed down by the NCAA with a four-year postseason ban, severe reduction in scholarships, and a $60 million fine stemming from the lack of institutional control found in the Freeh Report. Many people felt that the penalties were far too severe and would long cripple the school from being successful in one of its major revenue making ventures. Turns out, the Nittany Lions have more pressing concerns as their accreditation is now under review.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which accredits degree-granting institutions in the region, has issued a warning to the school in the wake of the Freeh Report and the subsequent consent decree with the NCAA that they are in danger of losing their accreditation. The Middle States Commission issues a warning when an institution is not in compliance with government policies and the university’s governing body responsibility for quality and integrity. Penn State will now have until September 30 to submit a report outlining issues of governance and financial stability. Once the university submits their report, a team from Middle States will head to State College to conduct a review of their own.

If the commission is unsatisfied by the report or find some inadequacy in their review, they can choose to put Penn State on probation. At that point, the school would need to issue a show-cause as to why they shouldn’t lose their accreditation. If Penn State were to lose their accreditation, their degrees would lose significant value causing a massive drop in enrollment which would cut even deeper into the school’s pockets than the football sanctions. This would have far-reaching consequences across the campus, including being dropped from the Big Ten athletic conference, which would reduce revenue streams even further, and likely result in massive cuts across all school programs.

However, Penn State is confident that they will be able to satisfy the concerns of the commission. As vice provost for academic affairs, Blannie Bowen, points out, the commission doesn’t issue a warning unless “the commission believes that an institution has the capacity to make appropriate improvements within a reasonable period and then sustain itself to stay in compliance.” Bowen is confident that the school will put all of the commissions worries to rest and repair the damage to their reputation that an accreditation review will likely bring. In addition, Bowen also expressed confidence that the school would be able to cover the costs of all civil lawsuits and pending financial burdens stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal without using funds raised by tuition, state, or philanthropic means with a combination of unrestricted resources and insurance.

When Penn State signed the consent decree with the NCAA, they effectively accepted the claims presented in the Freeh Report as factual, which has opened them up to all forms of liability. The Nittany Lions likely expected to get this call, along with calls from every other governing body watching over them. This is a dark chapter in the history of Penn State University, but it allows the school to re-evaluate itself from top to bottom and come out stronger in the end. For now, they’ll just have to take their lumps as they continue to come.

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