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LC responds to SACS accreditation warning

by Wildcat Staff

'...part of the process of accreditation'

As the Louisiana College family went its separate ways for the Christmas break, news began to spread of the college’s accreditation warning from SACS, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – specifically, its Commission on Colleges which holds the responsibility of either reaffirming or denying accreditation to members schools every 10 years.

LC’s “warning” status has sparked rumors and speculation, but the bottom line is that the warning is part of the overall process LC is going through to have that accreditation reaffirmed.

In April of 2011, the Commission on Colleges for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools visited Louisiana College in order to continue its 10-year cycle of evaluation of the college. Following the visit, the Commission found areas of non-compliance, denied the college’s immediate reaffirmation of accreditation, and placed the school on warning for 12 months in order to allow the College time to respond to the areas it found to be out of compliance.

As part of the SACS reaccreditation process that occurs every 10 years, Louisiana College submitted a comprehensive compliance report to the organization earlier in 2011 and hosted an on-site team whose task it was to evaluate areas where the college was or was not in compliance. The warning status came as a result of the commission’s overall evaluation.

LC President, Dr. Joe Aguillard and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Tim Searcy, said that LC has already begun the process of answering all the findings of the SACS report, but also noted that LC remains fully accredited during the continued evaluation process.

“This is not a level of accreditation, we are fully, 100-percent accredited and have always been,” Dr. Aguillard said. “In the history of the college, we have never lost our accreditation, and we do not believe that we will now. This is simply a direction from our Commission on Colleges of some areas that need to be strengthened. We have already begun the process of doing just that. The areas that we are addressing are some that our representative from SACS said we have in place. We just need to let them run their course and be measured. That’s what we’re doing.”

“I’ve heard people say we’ve lost our accreditation, that’s definitely out of context,” Dr. Searcy added. “This is just part of the process of accreditation. Now, if you are given a warning, and you do nothing about it, that could turn into probation, and that could eventually turn into loss of accreditation, but we are not going to do that. We are going to respond vigorously, and already have been, to make sure that we correct the points in the standards where it has been identified that we have weaknesses. That’s exactly what we are going to do.”

What will occur next for LC is another review by the Commission in December of 2012. According to SACS, a special committee will conduct an on-site evaluation of its compliance with the Principles of Accreditation—the accreditation standards of the Commission. The Commission’s accreditation includes all components of the institution—all programs, branch campuses, off-campus sites, and distance learning programs as reported to the Commission; thus, the warning status applies to the entire institution. The maximum total time during one monitoring period that an institution may be on warning is two years.

“This warning is official accreditation language,” Dr. Searcy said. “It’s one to be taken seriously, but not one to be taken out of context. It simply means there are still some of the standards on the books, in this case with a warning particularly one of the core requirements that are still on the table for us to straighten up.

“We have a particular amount of time. We have to send in a report in September and receive another team of evaluators in the first of October to look specifically at the things that have been listed that are still for us to work on. We were told that we are moving in the right direction, so we have great confidence that we will be able to finish off the things that are still left and be able then to receive our reaffirmation.”

Furthermore, Dr. Searcy stressed that the current process of reaffirmation, despite the warning status, does not impact current LC students or recent graduates.

“It doesn’t affect them at all,” he said. “Our accreditation is in full force and their degrees are fully accredited. It would only be if in a long process, it was determined that we are not willing to do what the accrediting agency says to do and we lose our accreditation, then that would have impact on the students, but we are in no danger of that.

“If you look at the findings of the last meeting of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, you will find that there are many institutions that have warnings or recommendations that they are working on. This is what the process is intended to do – is to help institutions on a regular basis to take a look at what they are doing and to make sure that the quality points are being kept, to identify what is not and to correct it. The institution that goes through a 10-year review without any kind of recommendations is very rare.”

According to SACS, Louisiana College was denied reaffirmation of accreditation and placed on Warning because the Commission’s Board of Trustees determined that, at the time of the institution’s decennial review, it had failed to demonstrate compliance with Core Requirement 2.5 (Institutional Effectiveness), Comprehensive Standard 3.2.9 (Faculty/Staff Appointment), Comprehensive Standard 3.3.1.1 (Institutional Effectiveness: Educational Programs), Comprehensive Standard 3.3.1.2 (Institutional Effectiveness: Administrative Support Services), Comprehensive Standard 3.3.1.3 (Institutional Effectiveness: Educational Support Services), Comprehensive Standard 3.4.11 (Academic Program Coordination), Comprehensive Standard 3.5.1 (College-Level Competencies), Comprehensive Standard 3.5.4 (Terminal Degree of Faculty), Comprehensive Standard 3.7.1 (Faculty Competence), Comprehensive Standard 3.11.1 (Control of Physical Resources), and Federal Requirement 4.1 (Student Achievement) of the Principles of Accreditation.

The cited standards expect an accredited institution to provide evidence that it (1) engages in ongoing, integrated, and institution-wide research-based planning and evaluation processes, (2) identifies expected outcomes of and shows improvements in the areas of student learning/educational programs, administrative support services, and educational support services, (3) publishes policies regarding appointment and employment of faculty and staff, (4) assigns responsibility for program coordination and curriculum development to academically qualified faculty, (5) determines the degree to which graduates attain college-level general education competencies, (6) employs qualified faculty to teach assigned courses, (7) exercises appropriate control over its physical resources, and (8) evaluates success with respect to student achievement.

In December 2012, the SACSCOC Board of Trustees will consider the accreditation status of Louisiana College following review of a First Monitoring Report submitted by the institution addressing the standards cited above for non-compliance, and the report of a Special Committee that will visit the institution in fall 2012. The Board will have the following options: (1) reaffirm accreditation and remove the institution from Warning with or without an additional report; (2) deny reaffirmation of accreditation, continue accreditation, continue Warning and request an additional report; (3) deny reaffirmation of accreditation, continue accreditation, continue Warning or place the institution on Probation, authorize a Special Committee, and request an additional report; or (4) remove the institution from membership with the Commission on Colleges. Commission staff will not speculate on what decision might be made by the Commission’s Board in December 2012.

Both Dr. Aguillard and Dr. Searcy stressed that LC, at this point, is not facing an imminent loss of accreditation despite the warning status.

“There are a lot of things that would happen within that - communication between the college and the accreditation agency,” Dr. Searcy said. “However, I have great assurance, and they also told us at the meeting, that they felt the steps that we are taking are in the right direction. If you are taking steps and making changes, it has to go through a cycle to be able to demonstrate changes you’ve made are taking affect. And a lot of things we are dealing with are along that line.

“This is the intent of the entire process. Remember, this is not a governmental agency. This is sister institutions. So, if I join a team to go and do a visit for a 10-year review somewhere, I am going as somebody that is in the same boat that they are in. We are helping each other out. It is not an adversarial process. It is collegiality as it were.”

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