Southeast preparing for visit from accrediting agency

Monday, June 11, 2012

Southeast Missouri State University's administration says its programs will be well recognized for quality during an upcoming evaluation to determine whether reaccreditation is deserved, even though there is a bit of a rush on campus to get ready.

Southeast expects a visit in September by a team from its regional accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission. The team reviews the university's ongoing ability to meet criteria for accreditation. Before the team arrives, faculty of every academic department and staff of all offices, such as financial aid, admissions and others are being asked to compile documentation over several hundred areas. It's a process that involves time and effort for many, said university provost Dr. Ron Rosati, who is overseeing the preparations.

The commission's visit was originally scheduled for fall 2013. In May, Southeast was among about 50 universities to receive notice that the visits were being moved up by one year due to a "reinterpretation of the rules," Rosati said.

Stephen Spanghel, the Higher Learning Commission's vice president for accreditation relations, said rescheduling was done to make sure no questions were raised that the commission was not following its own policies. One of the policies says the commission will reaffirm every institution it evaluates within 10 years of its last accreditation. Southeast was among universities that hadn't been evaluated in that window of time. The U.S. Department of Education checks that the commission follows regulations and policies.

Rosati said since Southeast is a well-established institution that it will be in good shape for the evaluation.

"We welcome it," he said. "It will happen a little quicker than we thought it would, but the university community has done a great job so far of handling preparation and that will no doubt continue."

A call for public comment is part of the evaluation process. Comments that address matters relating to Southeast's quality or academic programs are reviewed by the commission, and Spangehl said comments that raise major concern are thoroughly investigated. Comments the commission usually does not address and are discounted in the evaluation are, for example, normally complaints from individual students about a grade they received in a course. Also not addressed are comments that are "too positive," Spangehl said, because the comment may come from a faculty member of a university or a major donor to an academic program. Often times the commission receives no comments about colleges and universities it evaluates, he said.

Rosati said inclusion of public comment "provides an opportunity for whisteblowing," but that he feels confident in the university and its academic programs.

"Our purpose is to serve the region, and if anyone in our region perceives a problem with integrity at the university, this is the time they say something," he said.

The commission reviews documentation submitted by the university before the team's visit. Rosati said that during the visit most time is spent discussing with the team how the university can improve student learning outcomes and teaching procedures.

Much focus for Southeast faculty is placed on giving students opportunity for experiential learning, and Rosati said that is a strong area when it comes to being evaluated for accreditation.

Southeast is also a university in the commission's Academic Quality Improvement Program, or AQIP, which, according to the commisson, is a program that infuses the principles and benefits of continuous improvement into the culture of colleges and universities by providing an alternative process through which an already-accredited institution can maintain its accreditation. AQIP participants demonstrate meeting accreditation standards and expectations through a sequence of events that align with the ongoing activities of an institution striving to improve its performance.

For Southeast, that means there are always three projects ongoing at any given time with a goal of performance improvement. A current example is a project that revises and improves the university's faculty handbook. Rosati said the university's faculty senate approved 42 changes to the handbook during the last academic year and at least 30 more are expected in the next academic year. Another project is evaluating and collecting student learning outcomes.

The commission's team will be on the Southeast campus Sept. 12 through 14.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

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