Campus News

September 29, 2011

Emory prepares for reaccreditation

Emory is preparing for its reaffirmation of accreditation review in 2014 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). At a kick-off meeting on Sept. 21, leaders outlined the SACS reaffirmation process including aspects of the compliance certification report, outcomes assessment procedures and a Quality Enhancement Plan.

President Jim Wagner urged the Emory community to view preparing for reaffirmation as more than a necessary exercise, but an avenue for self-improvement. "We have an opportunity to see if our processes match our principles," he said.

SACS accreditation touches all aspects of Emory's programs, services and facilities, and the multi-stage process will involve the entire Emory community.

 "It will demand our patience, our determination. It will also require that we feel confident on counting on each other to participate energetically and creatively to ensure a positive outcome, both from Emory's perspective, and from SACS's perspective," Wagner said.

The Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Effectiveness — under the leadership of Makeba Morgan Hill, assistant vice provost for planning and accreditation; Daniel Teodorescu, director of institutional research; and David Jordan, director of institutional effectiveness — will help guide the process for the University, while working closely with the SACS leadership team.

Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Claire Sterk, Emory's SACS liaison and a member of the SACS leadership team, gives an overview of the reaffirmation process now under way at Emory.

Emory Report: What is Emory's reaffirmation of accreditation?

Claire Sterk: Reaffirmation of accreditation involves a process of self-regulation regarding quality assurance and institutional and program improvements. Based on Emory's geographic location, we are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), one of six regional, non-governmental bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. The reaffirmation includes an institutional self-study and an external peer review.  Although accreditation is considered voluntary, only accredited institutions are eligible for participation in federal and state financial aid programs; thus, not being accredited has significant disadvantages.

As we prepare for our reaffirmation of accreditation, we will face a number of activities that we must complete.  Instead of viewing this merely in the context of "having to comply," the compliance part of our reaffirmation fits well with our commitment to best practices in higher education and our ongoing search for enhancements. The process provides another opportunity for reflection on our mission and accomplishments, while receiving thoughtful feedback from a team of peer reviewers.

Emory Report: Emory's last reaffirmation of accreditation was in 2003. Have the expectations changed?

Sterk: The expectations have changed.  In 2004, SACS reduced the number of principles and standards related to compliance from over 400 to fewer than 100 as described in the 2010 "Principles of Accreditation: Foundations for Quality Enhancement" handbook.  SACS's revised approach emphasizes putting into place effective processes and resources that support optimal learning.  For example, Emory's faculty members have a long tradition of assessing how well our students learn, but now we are expected to track that information over time and document how it is used to improve student learning across the University. In this way we can more accurately measure how well we are accomplishing our educational mission. 

Instead of viewing this merely in the context of "having to comply," the compliance part of our reaffirmation fits well with our commitment to best practices in higher education and our ongoing search for enhancements.

Another major change is the request for a Quality Enhancement Plan.  The plan is a university-wide effort and it must be grounded in our ongoing assessments with a focus on student learning. Professors Sarah McPhee and Eric Weeks are leading the process of identifying a theme for the Quality Enhancement Plan.  In addition to input from faculty, suggestions also will be sought from students, staff and alumni.

We plan to have a theme that is approved by SACS at the end of this academic year.  At the beginning of the 2012-13 academic year, we will establish a commission to develop the action plan and timeline, an organizational structure for implementation and the required resources, and an evaluation plan to assess our progress.  

Emory Report: In 2010 Emory submitted a SACS Fifth-Year Interim Report. What is the next major milestone in the reaffirmation of accreditation process?

Sterk: A major next step in the reaffirmation process is the completion of an internal readiness audit by Oct. 31, 2011.  This effort entails reviewing the extent to which we are in compliance, developing strategies to address areas in which we have limitations, and ensuring that all required background documentation is available.  As we complete this review, we will also continue the university-wide assessments and preparation for the quality enhancement plan. 

Emory Report: What must Emory submit as part of the reaffirmation of accreditation process?

Sterk: We are required to submit two major reports: the Compliance Certification Report and the Quality Enhancement Plan. 

In the Compliance Certification Report we demonstrate Emory's compliance with the core requirements, comprehensive standards and federal requirements as listed in the SACS Principles of Accreditation handbook.  In other words, it is a narrative of our compliance self-assessment.  It is due to SACS in September 2013, at which point they will form an off-site review committee, composed of representatives from other accredited institutions and one representative from the accrediting agency. The findings from this review will be shared with members of the review committee that will visit Emory in March or April 2014.  We will have the opportunity to write a response, referred to as a focused report, to address any concerns raised during the off-site review. 

The second major document is the Quality Enhancement Plan. As described in the response to Question 2, by the end of this academic year, we plan to have a theme that is grounded in our ongoing institutional assessments, aligned with Emory's mission, and focused on improvements in student learning outcomes and/or the environment supporting these outcomes.  Next we move toward the actual development of the plan, including implementation and evaluation strategies.  The Quality Enhancement Plan is due late 2013-early 2014 for review by the members of the on-site review committee in March or April 2014. 

Emory Report: How can the Emory community become involved? Who should expect to be involved in the reaffirmation of accreditation effort?

Sterk: The reaffirmation of accreditation and Emory's strategic plan intersect as both underscore the importance of teaching and learning, including discovery.  Both align with Emory's vision and mission.

The most creative part of our reaffirmation is the Quality Enhancement Plan. We hope that all members of the Emory community will suggest topics and participate in the selection of the final theme –one that builds on the ongoing student learning assessments and that we can measure and evaluate.

The completion of the Compliance Report mainly will involve administrators from across the University. Nevertheless, there will be areas in which your input and assistance are needed.  For example, if you are a faculty member who teaches a course that the students take for credit, you will be asked to submit the syllabus.  In addition, we must collect data on your credentials to show that you fit the criteria to be the instructor of record.  Those employed in more administrative support areas will be addressing specific standards and requirements such as those regarding governance and administration, physical facilities, and student affairs.

As President Wagner stated during the SACS kick-off meeting, the process offers us the opportunity to assess our accomplishments, identify areas for improvement, and continue to engage in a dialogue about Emory's future as well as that of higher education in general.  Consequently, we will move beyond fulfilling the SACS requirement and strengthen what we do now and in the future.

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