SACSCOC reaffirms university’s accreditation for another 10 years

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges has publicly reaffirmed accreditation of Western Carolina University for an additional 10 years, a successful outcome to the process of evaluation of the university’s academic and administrative programs that began three years ago.

Announcement of the SACSCOC’s decision regarding reaffirmation of accreditation came Tuesday, Dec. 5, in Dallas, Texas, as part of the organization’s annual meeting.

“This is great news,” WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher said in a message to campus shortly after the announcement in Dallas. “Maintaining accreditation is incredibly important, as it validates that students at Western Carolina University are experiencing high-quality academic programs. Further, accreditation assures all constituents that WCU demonstrates compliance with strict standards related to institutional integrity, effective governance, financial sustainability and appropriate student support services.”

The SACSCOC commission has requested as a follow up that WCU continue to closely monitor its institutional effectiveness processes, with a monitoring report due in September 2018

SACSCOC has more than 90 standards in its Principles of Accreditation with which institutions must comply in order to gain or maintain accreditation. In 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. Ultimately, an on-site reaffirmation team, which visited campus in April 2017, made several recommendations regarding improvement of the university’s institutional effectiveness practices.

Also as part of the process, SACSCOC required the university to develop a Quality Enhancement Plan, or QEP, a comprehensive plan for institutional improvement. The accrediting agency determined earlier this year that WCU’s proposed QEP, titled DegreePlus, was in need of no additional modifications and could be implemented as presented.

Designed as a holistic approach involving not only faculty and students but all aspects of the campus community, DegreePlus is intended to enhance student success by complementing course-based learning with an improved framework to support student participation in extracurricular activities through experience in activities that enhance leadership, cultural responsiveness, teamwork and professionalism skills.

Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar thanked members of the university community for their active participation and hard work throughout the comprehensive reaccreditation process over the past two-plus years.

“We are very pleased at the outcome of the reaffirmation of our accreditation,” Morrison-Shetlar said. “We have a wee bit more work to do in in the areas of institutional effectiveness and assessment, but I am confident that, in true Catamount fashion, we will assess our progress in these areas and ensure continuous improvement.”

Both Belcher and Morrison-Shetlar commended Arthur Salido for his work as director of the reaccreditation process. Salido, then an associate professor of chemistry and physics, took over the reins of the campuswide effort in July 2015, succeeding Stephen Miller, an associate professor of economics who left WCU that summer to accept a position at Troy University. Salido is now WCU’s executive director for community and economic engagement and innovation.

Belcher and Morrison-Shetlar also applauded the efforts of Carmen Huffman, associate professor of chemistry, who served as chair of the committee overseeing the selection and implementation of WCU’s QEP program. DegreePlus is in a pilot phase, with campus implementation scheduled for fall 2018. Marti Newbold joined WCU’s Center for Career and Professional Development, where the QEP program is housed, in July as the center’s associate director of DegreePlus.

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.