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SACS Is Coming

04 Mar Posted by in Academics, Business | Comments Off on SACS Is Coming

About a year from now, Mason will greet its Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accreditation team. We’ll be sending in our formal report in Fall 2010. SACS procedures now include an off-site evaluation of the report, and then the campus visit, which is particularly directed at the Quality Enhancement Plan but may of course review other materials.

Preparing for SACS falls particularly on a number of staff members and faculty committees, but it is positively desirable for the larger campus community to be generally aware of the contours. In the first place, though this is for us an unlikely extreme, a verdict of non-compliance has truly dire consequences for an institution, in terms of jeopardizing not only reputation but federal funding and calling for years of arduous remedial work. Even a smaller number of dings require remediation, though it’s unusual to avoid some issues of some sort. (SACS is a bear about faculty credentials, which caused us some grief last time around; we’re much better prepared now, but it’s hard to be foolproof.)

It’s well known that SACS, like most accreditation agencies, has become more demanding. Whether it should do so is worth discussing, but given the power structure in the short term, it is beside the point. Particularly interesting in this season is the tension between a more demanding approach, which among other things unquestionably costs an institution some money in advancing a proper response; and the current budgetary climate.

Two issues are front and center. First, with accreditation work generally, much more emphasis is being placed in identifying and assessing learning outcomes AND responding to results. Units accustomed to this feature of accreditation — for example, the School of Management — have become fairly comfortable with what is arguably a desirable emphasis. The University as a whole is less consistent. Proper response does take work, beyond the usual chores of classroom grading, and we still have some effort to expend.

Then there is the QEP, unique to SACS. Here, I hope, we’re in good shape. Certainly we’ve seen truly dedicated faculty and student response. We have an excellent project, in enhancing undergraduate scholarship and creativity. We still need to see the plan become more precise and we need to publicize the project itself. In principle, SACS folks can wander around campus asking faculty and students if they know what the QEP is, and given the general level of informed-ness on a big campus, this is a challenge in itself.

So: we have a year to go, and a lot of detailed effort already expended on the overall process. The coming months will require some further collective awareness, so stay tuned.