Western offers world’s first online accreditation course for schools

CULLOWHEE — Western Carolina University is breaking new ground in distance learning by offering the world’s first online course designed to help American schools in other countries achieve accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

The course, currently geared toward American schools in Central America, Latin America and the Caribbean, is a combined effort of WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions, and Division of Continuing Education and Summer School. Plans are already under way to develop online accreditation courses for schools abroad that are seeking accreditation from the other five accrediting bodies in the United States.

SACS accredits more than 12,000 public and private schools, from pre-kindergarten through college level, in 11 southeastern states.

School teams participating in the WCU course receive instruction in school improvement directly related to the accreditation process. Three to five days of instruction from a visiting WCU professor are offered at or near the participating school. After the initial instruction, the course takes place entirely online.

Course topics, totaling 13 areas, match SACS criteria for accreditation, including the evaluation of staffing, financial management, student services and facilities. Program costs vary based on the location chosen for preliminary instruction and the number of participants.

Don Chalker, retired WCU professor of education, recently traveled to the International American School of Cancun in Mexico to offer preliminary instruction to a group of faculty members, administrative staff and board members at the school.

“We had a very good response from those taking the course,” Chalker said. “The format of online courses is going to work very well and the participants were pleased with the materials they received online. They seemed very grateful to have the opportunity to take the course without leaving Cancun.”

Staff members of American schools in Central America, Latin America and the Caribbean often experience difficulty preparing for accreditation due to small staffs or high staff turnover, time constraints and a shortage of staff members with experience in the process.

The problem is especially evident among small schools, said Malcolm Loughlin, associate dean of Continuing Education and Summer School at WCU. Loughlin and Richard Haynes, director of the Office of Field Experiences and Teacher Certification in the College of Education and Allied Professions, decided to create the program to address international schools’ accreditation efforts.

Having visited many international schools as a member of various accreditation teams, Loughlin says he understands the problems faced by international American schools. “I know how much time and effort are needed to go through the accreditation process, and I wanted our university to do what it could to help.

“The department of education leadership and foundations at WCU already has a successful program in school improvement, and has adapted that to an online audience. The result is that we now have an activity that can be expanded all across the state, the country and the world,” Loughlin said.

For more information, contact Loughlin by telephone at (828) 227-7397, by fax at (828) 227-7115 or via e-mail at loughlin@wcu.edu.