The regional education accrediting agency, which can make or break a university’s reputation as an academic institution, has taken Southern University off of probation. The move brings to a close a two-year back-and-forth between Southern and the accrediting agency.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on College, better known as SACS, placed Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus on probation in December over what the agency deemed was insufficient data reporting on Southern’s part.
While being put on probation “is a serious sanction,” SACS spokeswoman Pamela Cravey called it mostly an administrative issue that doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on the school’s academic performance or on its students.
But “it really is a good thing, a great thing if probation is removed,” Cravey said Friday.
Accreditation is essentially a stamp of approval affirming a university’s legitimacy.
When an institution goes through the re-accreditation process as Southern did in 2010, the Atlanta-based SACS requests that the university submit documentation proving the institution is in compliance with hundreds of different academic standards.
In Southern’s case, SACS found that the university met enough of those standards to be re-accredited, however the agency twice asked Southern to follow up and provide additional information on a few different measures.
A second request for information from SACS automatically triggers being placed on probation. Being put on probation usually results in a campus visit, which Southern Chancellor James Llorens said went well in April.
The issues revolved around how well Southern was measuring student success. Specifically, students are supposed to come out of each course with a certain baseline level of knowledge. Southern, additionally, needs to have adequate measures in place to assess whether students have met that criteria. Thirdly, schools need to prove that they have a way to use their assessment tools to improve student success outcomes for the following year.
Llorens said in some cases all SACS required was that Southern provide the agency with larger data samples. “They told us that ‘you have this information, but we don’t see enough evidence,’ ” Llorens said.
He said Southern has recently invested in new software that should better help the school collect, assess and report the type of information SACS is looking for.
The reputation of our “degrees was never in jeopardy. There was never a question of the quality of our instruction and there was never a question in the quality of our curriculum,” Llorens said.
“It was just a verification that we are doing what we are supposed to be doing in terms of student outcomes,” he added. “Accreditation is a continuous process; we’re already preparing for the next one in 2020.”
Southern Faculty Senate President Thomas Miller said the issue wasn’t much of a concern to the faculty as a whole.
“This wasn’t about us not doing what we are supposed to do,” Miller said. “But it is a relief to me, and I think, everyone on this campus.”