GRU SACS Review Success: Why Does it Matter? And Now What?

By | September 26, 2013

Most on campus are aware of the recent Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS-COC) Substantive Change Committee review of our university. A team of our higher education peers spent three days with us checking our progress since consolidation. They interviewed students, faculty, and administrators; and examined documentation, processes, and procedures across a wide range of disciplines and departments—and provided their feedback.

First, a little context: SACS-COC is the regional body for the accreditation of more than 800 degree-granting higher education institutions in 11 Southern states. Eighty-nine of its member institutions are located in Georgia. The Commission determines standards that must be met, grants initial accreditation status to compliant institutions in its region, and periodically (typically every five to 10 years) reassesses and reaffirms accreditation. Both Georgia Health Sciences University (GHSU) and Augusta State University (ASU) were fully accredited universities when the University System of Georgia (USG) Board of Regents determined to consolidate them.

SACS-COC deems consolidation to be a “substantive change,” which triggered two requirements: SACS-COC approval prior to consolidation, and a post-consolidation visit by a substantive change committee to determine continued compliance with selected accreditation standards. That is the visit that recently occurred, and the number of standards selected for review (39) amounted to about half the full number of standards (84).

Feedback was universally positive, and included no recommendations for further action needed to ensure standards compliance.

Mark Smith, Vice President of SACS-COC said, “The hard work that led up to this visit is truly exceptional. I have been conducting site reviews since the 1980s, and a visit that concludes without recommendations is truly a rarity.”

And we were not alone in the USG. South Georgia hosted a team in April and North Georgia’s visit occurred this month, and both also received no recommendations. Middle Georgia is finalizing its report in anticipation of a November visit.

This is an exciting and gratifying outcome, and one in which we can all take justifiable pride, although we should note that the final report on our Substantive Change application (for consolidation) will not be final until the SACS-COC Board of Trustees meets later this year and reviews the Committee’s findings.

Our consolidation so far, and the positive feedback received by our peers and accrediting body, reflect the enormous effort on the part of many across all campuses who energetically and creatively, with determination and plain hard work, successfully completed the myriad tasks necessary to consolidate two distinct and complicated institutions—tasks for which there is no instruction manual. And so I would like to personally thank everyone involved for their Herculean efforts, and to single out our Institutional Effectiveness (IE) teams for their rigorous and successful preparation for this review.

But as significant as this success is, we must remember it is only one step in the challenging and ambitious journey we have mapped for ourselves. Our vision is to be a top-tier university that is a destination of choice for education, health care, discovery, creativity, and innovation. To be “The Next Great American University.” That doesn’t leave much time for resting on our laurels.

In fact, we will soon be gearing up to prepare for a full SACS reaffirmation of our accreditation, scheduled for 2016. And so I thought I would share some thoughts as to what that visit means, what it will entail, and how it fits with our future plans.

SACS-COC’s priority, like ours, is optimum student success and well-being; in the case of our substantive change review, the selected standards were chosen to ensure that the process of consolidation does not cause harm to attending students. Knowing we had to demonstrate certain competencies for the SACS-COC review in effect became a catalyst for rapid prioritization and completion of certain fundamentals for Georgia Regents University. We should be grateful; without it, we may very well not have moved so quickly nor come so far.

And it continues. There are two requirements for the 2016 review: We must demonstrate compliance with all 84 accreditation standards, and we must develop a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) that specifically and substantially addresses one or more issues across the wider academic community that will improve and enhance student learning.

Both ASU and GHSU had QEP initiatives in place or about to begin before consolidation: ASU’s plan, Knowledge InTegrated (KNIT), focused on developing common themes and narratives across four historical periods in core undergraduate classes; and GHSU’s plan, Healthy Perspectives, focused on cultural competency to address health disparities and improve patient outcomes. And because both plans were felt to significantly impact learning outcomes, both initiatives have been implemented on campus under the leadership of Wes Kisting, Associate Professor of English, and Kent Guion, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, respectively.

Preparing for our full 2016 SACS-COC reassessment will entail a great deal of work from all of us—those who continue to map out strategies and goals to reach for, and policies and tactics for achieving them; those who work every day to implement the steps necessary for success; students, faculty, and staff who contribute ideas, feedback, and suggestions for GRU’s continued improvement; and the staff who will manage and prepare to meet specific SACS-COC review requirements.

In their end-of-review commentary, review team members expressed genuine astonishment at the breadth of our accomplishments in so short a time. My heartfelt congratulations to everyone involved—and let’s work hard to Wow! our visiting colleagues just as much next time.