SACSCOC team endorses QEP, seeks more information on a few compliance issues

To adapt a phrase often attributed to Julius Caesar – they came; they saw; they concurred.

In this case, “they” refers to the members of an external review team who visited campus last week as a culminating event in the nearly three-year process to reaffirm Western Carolina University’s 10-year accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

The review team spent several days on campus to evaluate the university’s comprehensive self-study report documenting how WCU meets core accreditation standards and to examine WCU’s Quality Enhance Plan proposal, titled DegreePlus. Team members conducted numerous interviews with faculty, administrators, staff, students, members of the WCU Board of Trustees and other stakeholders before sharing preliminary findings with university leadership during an exit interview Thursday, April 6.

Review team members concurred that the university’s DegreePlus proposal deserved their approval without any formal recommendations. This means that, when the team submits its final written report in the next few weeks, WCU will have no additional issues to deal with regarding its QEP and can implement the QEP as planned, said Carmen Huffman, QEP committee chair and associate professor of chemistry.

The review team also concurred that the university still needs to address a few lingering compliance-related issues. SACSCOC has more than 90 standards in its Principles of Accreditation with which institutions must comply in order to gain or maintain accreditation. Last September, WCU officials submitted a compliance certification report following an extensive self-study of all aspects of university life. Later in the fall, an off-campus review team requested follow-up information in 16 of those 90-plus standards.

Although the official report will not be available for up to six weeks, in the spirit of reaffirmation the review team did offer a few areas in which they recommend the university still has some work to do, primarily in the areas of institutional effectiveness and assessment, said Arthur Salido, SACSCOC reaffirmation director and associate professor of chemistry. In particular, the team requested follow-up work in the areas of assessment of the effectiveness of academic programs, academic and student support units, administrative support services and research activities, Salido said.

In the exit interview, the team also asked for additional information regarding formal contractual agreements and facilities arrangements for the university’s off-campus instructional sites and programs. Earlier in its review process, the team visited WCU instructional sites at Biltmore Park Town Square in Asheville and in Jamaica, where the university has been involved in providing education and training programs since the early 1970s.

“It is important to note that these areas of recommendation are related to the 90-plus compliance standards and not to the QEP, which received only a few very minor suggestions related to implementation strategies,” Salido said. “We will have more information to share when the official report is delivered. In the meantime, we are in the process of assembling a university task force to tackle these remaining issues.”

Upon receipt of the written report, WCU officials will have the opportunity to review the document for errors of fact. “Throughout the coming months, the WCU community can expect updates about our status in addressing the remaining areas of noncompliance and our progress in securing our reaffirmation,” Salido said.

WCU’s accreditation reaffirmation, including its compliance report and QEP, is scheduled to be ratified at the SACSCOC annual meeting in December in Dallas.

The review team was chaired by Dr. Terry McConathy, vice president for academic affairs at Louisiana Tech University. Other team members were Jeff King, executive director of the Center for Excellence in Transformative Teaching and Learning at the University of Central Oklahoma, who served 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; and Karen “Kate” Kellum, associate director of institutional effectiveness at the University of Mississippi. Cheryl D. Cardell, vice president of the Commission on Colleges, is SACSCOC staff representative and also served on the team.

“Based on the feedback from the review team, we deem the visit a grand success,” Salido said. “They loved the process used to develop DegreePlus, found the work of the various committees to be outstanding, and praised the consistency of knowledge and responsiveness from people across campus as top-notch. We still have a bit of work to do on some compliance issues, but we feel good as we near the finish line.”

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. 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.

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.