The university’s efforts over the past several years to satisfy its regional accrediting body have succeeded. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools notified the university late last semester that its accreditation with the organization has been reaffirmed.
What’s more, the reaffirmation comes with no required monitoring or probationary period, said Dr. Nancy Shankle, chair of the university’s Reaffirmation Leadership Team.
Faculty members from other accredited universities represented Georgia-based SACS during a visit to campus last year, and the SACS decision means no more monitoring will be necessary until 2021. Shankle said only seven percent of the institutions audited by SACS last year were not required to present follow-up information regarding faculty credentials.
“We demonstrated compliance with a whole range of requirements within that first go around,” Shankle said.
Accredited institutions are required to provide two separate documents as part of the SACS reaffirmation process. The Compliance Certification is an audit of the requirements prescribed by the organization and the federal government. The other document is the Quality Enhancement Plan, which at ACU focuses on undergraduate research literacy.
SACS is one of six regional accrediting bodies recognized by the federal government. The university achieved accreditation in 1951 and has maintained it since.
The Compliance Certification
Shankle said she knew the process was going well when members of the accreditation committee started canceling meetings during their onsite visit in the fall.
“They had already answered their questions,” Shankle said.
Shankle and the rest of the Reaffirmation Leadership Team, Dr. Tom Winter, professor of social work and former vice provost, Dr. Tom Milholland, director of Institutional Research and Assessment, and Dr. Phyllis Bolin, director of Pursuit QEP, had to demonstrate that ACU’s general education program was comprehensive and that the students are meeting the student learning outcomes through assessments.
Shankle said some questions remained related to the new CORE curriculum. Because the SACS visit was the same year the new curriculum was implemented, students hadn’t finished the first semester and their learning couldn’t be assessed.
“We collected evidence from the end of the fall semester, a year ago, and then the spring semester,” Shankle said. “We said, ‘Here’s the assessment we did under the old gen ed, here’s the plan for our full new gen ed and here’s what we’ve done during the first year.’ And then we crossed our fingers.”
Shankle said ACU’s track record showed the accreditation committee that ACU would implement the plan well, so it didn’t assign any monitoring reports.
The Quality Enhancement Plan
The other document required as part of the reaffirmation process was the Quality Enhancement Plan. While the Compliance Certification looks at what the institution has done in the past, the QEP examines the plan the university has for enhancing future student learning, said Dr. Phyllis Bolin, director of Pursuit QEP.
ACU’s QEP, Pursuit, is designed to build a community of research, scholarship and creative expression.
“Pursuit will benefit students because undergraduate research is an exciting way to engage in an academic discipline inside and outside the classroom,” Bolin said. “It also leads to a deeper understanding of their chosen academic discipline.”
The focus of Pursuit, research literacy, was chosen after an intense process of conducting discussions with faculty, staff students and alumni.
“It is a broad-based far-sighted vision for transformative learning experiences for students,” Bolin said.
The QEP group examined each facet of the Pursuit plan in detail, met with faculty and students and questioned many across campus about the plan for Pursuit and its implementation during its onsite visit last April.
“They were very complimentary and made no recommendations for the QEP,” Bolin said. “That is good because a recommendation means that they believe there are significant problems to be addressed.”
Because of the positive response, the team began to implement the QEP in earnest in fall 2011.
Shankle said it is in the best interest of ACU and its students to maintain accreditation. To be in good standing with the federal government, a university must be accredited by one of the six regional accrediting bodies.
“Professors who do research cannot receive any grant money unless we are regionally accredited, and students can not receive any federal loans unless we are accredited,” Shankle said.
ACU also has a dozen or more specialized accreditations, which would not be possible without the regional accreditation. Several departments and colleges have achieved accreditation within their fields.
But the Reaffirmation Leadership team must prove the university’s worth in more than just an academic realm.
The accrediting body requires that they present data concerning all aspects of the university. Student life, library and learning resources, the board of trustees and financial resources are a few of those areas.
“It covers every aspect of the university, and all of these rules are important because when we receive this accreditation it shows other universities that we are fully accredited,” Shankle said. “Our students’ degrees are more valuable because they are coming from an accredited university.”