SACSCOC review team to visit campus April 3-6

Some very important guests are about to hit campus, as the members of an external review team of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges will visit April 3-6 as part of the nearly three-year process to reaffirm Western Carolina University’s accreditation.

The review team will be evaluating the university’s comprehensive self-study report documenting how WCU meets core accreditation requirements and standards; examining WCU’s Quality Enhance Plan proposal, titled DegreePlus; and conducting interviews with faculty, administrators, staff and students.

“We are asking all members of the university community to proudly wear purple and to collectively put their best foot forward,” said Arthur Salido, director of WCU’s SACSCOC accreditation reaffirmation effort. “Be polite, be professional, be positive and, perhaps most importantly, be prepared to answer the committee’s questions.”

Salido urged faculty, staff and students to approach the pending visit as if preparing for a final exam. “We encourage everyone to be familiar with our DegreePlus QEP proposal and with the university’s approach to institutional effectiveness and assessment processes,” he said. “We believe these will be among the topics of most interest to the review team.”

The on-site review team is chaired by Terry McConathy, vice president for academic affairs at Louisiana Tech University. The team is scheduled to arrive Monday, April 3, for tours of the Cullowhee campus and the Biltmore Park instructional site.

Tuesday, April 4, will find the team beginning its assessment of compliance certification issues identified by an off-campus review team last fall. The off-site reviewers requested follow-up information in 16 of the 90-plus standards required in the SACSCOC Principles of Accreditation. After receiving that request, WCU issued an institutional response seeking to address the off-site review team’s concerns. Among the areas in which the university was found to be “non-compliant” were institutional effectiveness and assessment, student complaint resolution, faculty credentials and terminal degrees, and course work for degrees.

“We believe the additional information we have provided after the initial off-site review will provide ample evidence that the university is meeting the stringent standards and requirements for reaffirmation of accreditation by SACSCOC,” Salido said.

Presentations, discussions and interviews about DegreePlus will take place Wednesday, April 5. DegreePlus is designed as a holistic approach involving all aspects of the campus community, not just faculty and students, and it is intended to enhance student success by complementing course-based learning with an improved framework to support student participation in extracurricular activities.

Carmen Huffman, chair of the committee implementing the topic for the university’s proposed Quality Enhancement Plan, described DegreePlus as a collaborative process that spans the whole university while placing students in charge of their learning and providing them a valuable set of skills that are documented and organized on an experiential transcript.

DegreePlus will be implemented on a pilot scale next fall by students from the Honors College, Academic Success Program and Leadership Program. More information can be found at the website degreeplus.wcu.edu.

The review team’s visit will conclude Thursday, April 6, with a series of exit interviews with campus leadership and the presentation of findings to campus constituents. The conference room space of Blue Ridge Hall will serve as SACSCOC headquarters during the review team’s visit.

Joining McConathy, the review team chair, are Jeff King, executive director of the Center for Excellence in Transformative Teaching and Learning at the University of Central Oklahoma, who will serve as QEP lead evaluator; Austin A. Lane, president of Texas Southern University; Dana D. Burnette, professor of higher education at Old Dominion University; John T. Finley, associate professor of business administration at Columbus State University; Karen “Kate” Kellum, associate director of institutional effectiveness at the University of Mississippi; and Cheryl D. Cardell, vice president of the Commission on Colleges, who is SACSCOC staff representative.

Final review of WCU’s reaffirmation process, including its compliance report and QEP, is set for December at the SACSCOC annual meeting in Dallas.

In addition to ensuring that WCU students are experiencing high-quality academic programs, successful reaffirmation of accreditation determines the university’s eligibility to receive federal and state funding, including student financial aid, and its ability to transfer academic credits with other institutions.

WCU has been continuously accredited by SACSCOC, the university’s institutional accrediting body, since 1946 and last reaffirmed accreditation for a 10-year period in 2007.

As the major accrediting body for public and private institutions of higher education in the 11 southernmost states, SACSCOC accredits more than 780 universities and colleges in North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia and in Latin America.

For additional information about accreditation, visit the website accreditation.wcu.edu.

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