By Amanda Richey, Staff Writer
Furman administrators are in the planning process for institutional re-accreditation, starting preparation two years in advance.
A committee of six Furman administrators is currently gathering information for reports to be submitted to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, also known as the SACS commission, a regional accreditor recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. The reports are part of a decennial analysis that will ultimately be judged by the commission’s Board of Trustees in 2018 to evaluate Furman’s rigor as a liberal arts institution and reaffirm its national accreditation.
David Eubanks, assistant vice president for assessment and institutional effectiveness, is the chair of this committee and the official accreditation liaison between Furman and the SACS commission.
The reaffirmation process works on a school-by-school basis within SACS and occurs in ten-year cycles. According to Eubanks, reaffirming accreditation is essential to doing business, both financially because accreditation supports federally funded student aid and also because accreditation ensures that high teaching standards are met within an institution.
“It’s a large undertaking. It seems like 2 years is a lot; it’s really not. It’s like a giant scavenger hunt,” Eubanks said.
The scavenger hunt proceeds in multiple phases and produces multiple reports. First, the internal committee creates a compliance certification document indicating how Furman meets the 88 standards outlined by the SACS commission. The certification document will be completed in the fall of 2017, then it will be sent to an off-site committee composed of peer administrators and faculty representatives from schools similar to Furman stretching from Texas to Virginia.
The off-site committee serves as a kind of “screening test” to allow Furman to fix problems early on in the process, Eubanks said. A second document called a focused report will be created following the off-site committee’s review. Meanwhile, another team within Furman will create a report called a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), outlining changes for student learning. A general topic for the 2018 reaffirmation’s QEP will be chosen later this semester; then, a committee composed of experts will be appointed to write the planning document.
A second external committee composed of similar peer administrators will visit Furman and review the QEP and previous documentation in late March 2018.
During the last reaffirmation cycle eight years ago, faculty and administrators enacted the First Year Seminar and First Year Writing Seminar (FYS and FYW) programs, which faced a close vote in a faculty meeting last fall, ending the FYS class requirement for incoming students. Eubanks says that it is too early to tell if the forthcoming QEP will feature such large changes in curriculum as the previous FYS/FYW proposal.
Following the on-campus visit in March, all of the documents will be sent to the SACS commission’s Board of Trustees who will decide if the university will receive the accreditation. The board’s designation is usually accompanied by follow-up reports for the reviewed institution.
The Furman committee faces additional challenges beyond gathering extensive information for the reports and hosting an on-site committee in the spring of 2018. Congress is currently deliberating on the Higher Education Act standards, and the resulting changes to policy could affect Furman’s reaffirmation process.
“They are currently revising it, and we don’t know what’s going to happen. Usually they create some new policies, new laws, and then we have to figure out, as it filters down to us, if the accreditation standards have changed,” Eubanks said. “That’s a really big part of it, just making sure that we’re in compliance with the latest version of the requirements.”
Eubanks does not expect that Furman will face any problems throughout the reaffirmation process, just a lot of paperwork.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm and a tremendous amount of energy behind the president’s vision and faculty ideas about student learning and programs that we could implement,” Eubanks said.