SACS Is Coming! SACS Is Coming!

A team from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) will be visiting ACC next week (September 17th through the 19th).  The team will be visiting with faculty, staff, and students at our Highland Campus, Hays Campus, and Elgin Campus.  They will also visit five high schools in our service area where we offer dual credit classes to interview faculty and students there.

As you already know, institutions of higher education are accredited by regional accrediting bodies, and we are in the Southern Region, so SACSCOC is our accrediting agency.  Accreditation is a decennial process that ACC went through most recently in 2013.  Mid-way through the decade, colleges in the Southern Association submit a Fifth Year Interim Report and are visited by a representative group of peers (faculty and staff) from other Southern Association colleges and universities.  All colleges and universities in the SACSCOC region must adhere to the same accrediting standards.  A visiting team is essentially tasked with examining whether or not a college is adhering to those standards.

The Fifth Year Report is an abbreviated document in which we respond to select standards and federal regulations.  It is a way for accrediting bodies to continuously monitor institutions to ensure compliance.  It is also a way for our accrediting authority to review any new sites that we opened since 2013 (thus the visits to Elgin, Hays, and Highland).

I attended my first meeting relating to the Fifth Year Report in February 2017 (two months after I was named AVP), but other preliminary meetings date to May of 2016 – so ACC has been working on this visit for more than two years.  I was tasked with writing two elements of the Report.  The first is CR 2.8.  In 2017, Core Requirement 2.8 said this:  “The number of full-time faculty members is adequate to support the mission of the institution and to ensure the quality and integrity of each of its academic programs.”  I wrote approximately 25 pages illustrating our compliance with this requirement, including tables, survey data, and charts provided by OIEA.

In December 2017 SACSCOC adopted updated principles, so now this core expectation is stated this way:

“SECTION 6: Faculty Qualified, effective faculty members are essential to carrying out the mission of the institution and ensuring the quality and integrity of its academic programs. The tradition of shared governance within American higher education recognizes the importance of both faculty and administrative involvement in the approval of educational programs. Because student learning is central to the institution’s mission and educational degrees, the faculty is responsible for directing the learning enterprise, including overseeing and coordinating educational programs to ensure that each contains essential curricular components, has appropriate content and pedagogy, and maintains discipline currency.

Achievement of the institution’s mission with respect to teaching, research, and service requires a critical mass of qualified full-time faculty to provide direction and oversight of the academic programs. Due to this significant role, it is imperative that an effective system of evaluation be in place for all faculty members that addresses the institution’s obligations to foster intellectual freedom of faculty to teach, serve, research, and publish.

1. The institution employs an adequate number of full-time faculty members to support the mission and goals of the institution. (Full-time faculty) [CR]

2. For each of its educational programs, the institution

a. Justifies and documents the qualifications of its faculty members. (Faculty qualifications)

b. Employs a sufficient number of full-time faculty members to ensure curriculum and program quality, integrity, and review. (Program faculty)

c. Assigns appropriate responsibility for program coordination. (Program coordination)”

I was also tasked with writing our response to FR 4.2.  Federal Requirement 4.2 says this:  “The institution’s curriculum is directly related and appropriate to the purpose and goals of the institution and the diplomas, certificates, or degrees awarded.”  I wrote approximately 15 pages documenting our compliance with FR 4.2.

Dr. Gretchen Riehl (AVP of Workforce Education) and I wrote the key instructional pieces of the Report.  Other writing assignments were given to various teams in Student Services, Campus Planning and Operations, and Institutional Planning and Evaluation.  The entire effort was overseen by Misty Rasmussen, our Director of Accreditation, and Dr. Mary Harris, our Vice President of Institutional Planning, Development, and Evaluation.  They deserve applause for the planning, forethought, organization, and support that they have provided as we have written our report and prepared for the visiting team.

I should tell you that we’re actually being visited by two teams next week. One is focused on the Fifth Year Report, and the other is focused on our recent level change.  In addition to preparing for the Fifth Year, we went through a level change process this year so that we could be approved to offer the RN-to-BSN program.  If you see Misty or Mary, give them a hug or a high five and tell them they should both go on vacation in October.  They will deserve it!

Now you know.  SACSCOC is coming, and we are well prepared.  But keep in mind – 2023 will be here before we know it, and we’ll be working on a full reaffirmation report.

I can’t wait 😉