Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dr. Faulkner on SACS

SACS (săks) – an organization that strikes fear in the heart of college administrators, staff, and faculty through-out the southeastern U.S.

That is the definition that most likely comes to mind when we hear about SACS.  Having been to the SACS annual meeting in early December, I am reminded that it should mean far more to us.

SACS stands for Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.  It encompasses two entities – The Council on Accreditation and School Improvement which accredits K-12 schools and the Commission on Colleges (COC) of which we are a part.  SACS-COC is the regional accrediting agency for degree granting institutions of higher education in the southern U.S.  They also accredit a handful of institutions in Latin America and one institution in Dubai.

SACS-COC issues accreditation based on our compliance with the Principles of Accreditation.  From the SACS web site:

“Accreditation by SACS Commission on Colleges signifies that the institution (1) has a mission appropriate to higher education, (2) has resources, programs, and services sufficient to accomplish and sustain that mission, and (3) maintains clearly specified educational objectives that are consistent with its mission and appropriate to the degrees it offers, and that indicate whether it is successful in achieving its stated objectives.”

We demonstrate this by a variety of reports, an intensive compliance report and on site visit once each 10 years, and a smaller compliance report each 5 years.  We have some anxiety about this because loss of accreditation would have significant impacts on things like the transferability of our courses and the ability of our students to receive federal financial aid.

At the recent conference, Dr. Belle Wheelan, current President, reminded us of two important aspects of SACS.  First it is “our organization.”  There is no SACS without the 800 + member institutions.  The College Delegate Assembly (CDA) consists of the CEO from each member college - i.e. me for Vol State.  The CDA elects the 77 member Board of Trustees which guides the organizations work and implements the accreditation process.  The CDA also approves any changes to the Principles of Accreditation.  So if SACS is the enemy then we must say like Pogo, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”

Secondly, we ought not to use SACS as an excuse for doing what is right.  We too frequently give as the rational for some action, policy, rule, or procedure that, “SACS requires it.”  We have created the Principles for Accreditation.  We have amended them from time to time.  We have concluded that these are the foundations for quality in higher education.  We are part of the peer evaluation process that holds all member institutions to the same level of quality.  SACS as an organization merely signifies that we comply with the three areas listed above.  And so we probably out to say, “We will do this because it is the right thing to do and so we can demonstrate that we are doing what is right.”

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