SACSCOC Reaffirmation of Accreditation (2014)
Welcome to Lenoir Community College’s Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) Accreditation Website. This site serves as the gateway to our College’s reaffirmation and the campus focal point for sharing all the pertinent information involving LCC’s preparation for its upcoming 2014 SACSCOC reaffirmation. It includes the processes, resources, councils, and working groups involved in the preparations, progress updates, goals, and timelines.
Many colleagues from across our campuses are working diligently to prepare for the College’s reaffirmation visit October 1-3, 2013, and your help and assistance are most welcome to assure our success. As we continue to develop innovative approaches to enhancing LCC’s institutional effectiveness, and most importantly student learning, this website will serve as a collaborative, college-wide work space to exchange ideas and facilitate compliance.
The new accreditation standards adopted by SACSCOC in 2004, and revised in 2006, have fundamentally changed the accreditation landscape since our last reaffirmation in 2003. The criteria has been significantly revised, refocused, and reduced; and the process has become much more collaborative and collegial. Most importantly, there is a strong spirit of trust and a focus on improving the quality of the student learning experience. I encourage you to visit the SACSCOC website (www.sacscoc.org/) and acquaint yourself with the Commission on Colleges, its publications and conferences, and most certainly, the principles of accreditation standards.
I invite and encourage you to speak with any of the members of LCC’s SACSCOC Leadership Team and Working Groups to learn more. Through this evolving initiative, we will be working to improve our learning environment long after the SACSCOC reaffirmation visitors have come and gone, and there are ample opportunities for all members of the LCC community to participate.
The reaffirmation of LCC by the College’s accreditation body is one of the most important initiatives of the next five years. I invite you to join us in this important effort. In the near future, the SACSCOC Leadership Team will be holding important information sessions to acquaint you with the reaffirmation process and to provide you with important updates regarding the College’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP).
Deborah Grimes, Ed.D., Accreditation Liaison
Source: SACS-COC Handbook for Institutions Seeking Reaffirmation – August 2011 Edition
BUILDING A FOUNDATION OF UNDERSTANDING
Accreditation by the Commission on Colleges signifies that the institution (1) has a mission appropriate to higher education, (2) has resources, programs, and services sufficient to accomplish and sustain that mission, and (3) maintains clearly specified educational objectives that are consistent with its mission and appropriate to the degrees it offers and that indicate whether it is successful in achieving its stated objectives.
**The Principles of Accreditation: Foundations for Quality Enhancement
- Examine its mission statement to determine whether it accurately reflects its values, aspirations, and commitments to constituent groups.
- Review its goals, programs, and services to determine the extent to which they reflect its mission.
- Use the analysis of its compliance with The Principles of Accreditation to evaluate the effectiveness of its programs, operations, and services.
- Strive for a level of performance that will challenge it to move beyond the status quo or beyond simply accepting a level of performance that constitutes compliance with the The Principles of Accreditation.
- Build or enhance its databases to provide ongoing documentation of its continuous improvement as well as evidence of its compliance with the Core Requirements, Comprehensive Standards, and Federal Requirements.
- Reinforce the concept of accreditation as an ongoing rather than an episodic event.
- Develop a Quality Enhancement Plan that demonstrates promise of making a significant impact on the quality of student learning.
- Strengthen the involvement of all members of its community in enhancing institutional quality and effectiveness.
- Demonstrate its accountability to constituents and the public.
- Compliance Certification. The Compliance Certification is the document completed by the institution to demonstrate its compliance with Core Requirements (except for 2.12), Comprehensive Standards (except for 3.3.2), and Federal Requirements. Principle 1.1 is also an exception. Part II of this handbook addresses preparation of the Compliance Certification. The signatures of the chief executive officer and the accreditation liaison attest to the institution’s honest, forthright, and comprehensive institutional analysis and the accuracy and completeness of its findings. The completed Compliance Certification is forwarded to the Off-Site Reaffirmation Committee and to the institution’s Commission staff representative. The template for the Compliance Certification is available at www.sacscoc.org under Institutional Resources.
- Institutional Summary Form Prepared for Commission Review. The Institutional Summary Form provides evaluators and Commission staff the following information:
- a list of educational programs and degrees offered,
- identification of governance control,
- a brief history and institutional characteristics,
- a list of off-campus sites and distance learning modalities,
- accreditation status with other agencies,
- and the institution’s relationship with the U.S. Department of Education.
It is provided to Commission staff at the time of the Orientation Meeting, revised for inclusion with the Compliance Certification, and updated and forwarded to the On-Site Reaffirmation Committee. Available at www.sacscoc.org under “Institutional Resources,” this document is used to help plan the reaffirmation visit as well as to provide an official record of the programs, sites, and delivery modes included in the reaffirmation review.
- Quality Enhancement Plan. The Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) describes a course of action for enhancing educational quality. Core Requirement 2.12 requires that an institution develop an acceptable Quality Enhancement Plan that focuses on learning outcomes and/or the environment supporting student learning. Comprehensive Standard 3.3.2 requires that the institution ensure that it has the capacity to implement and sustain the QEP, that a broad base of stakeholders was involved in the process, and that the QEP identifies goals and a plan to assess their achievements. Part IV of this handbook addresses the development of the QEP, which is forwarded to the On-Site Reaffirmation Committee prior to its campus visit and to the SACSCOC Board of Trustees prior to action on the institution’s reaffirmation.
- Focused Report. Although preparation of the Focused Report is optional, most institutions prepare one to provide updated or additional documentation in response to a judgment by the Off-Site Reaffirmation Committee regarding requirements or standards with which the committee found the institution to be in non-compliance or which the committee did not review. The Focused Report is prepared for the On-Site Reaffirmation Committee. Part IV of this handbook addresses development of the Focused Report.
- Institutional Profiles. Institutional Profiles are submitted annually to the Commission to provide updates of general institutional information, financial information, and enrollment data. This information is maintained by the Commission and is made available to the Off-Site Reaffirmation Committee to use in identifying financial and enrollment trends and other indicators of institutional stability.
- the off-site review,
- the on-site review,
- action by the SACSCOC Board of Trustees.
The general time-frame for these steps is addressed in the next section of Part I.
- The Orientation Meeting. Commission staff conduct an Orientation Meeting for the institution’s Leadership Team. This orientation explores critical issues pertaining to the completion of the Compliance Certification and the development of the Quality Enhancement Plan and provides time to discuss timelines and other reaffirmation issues with the institution’s assigned Commission staff representative.
- Advisory Visit. The institution’s assigned Commission staff representative may conduct an optional advisory visit as a follow up to the Orientation Meeting. This consultation may take the form of a telephone conference call, videoconference, or in-person. The timing of this consultation is determined in conversations between the SACSCOC staff representative and the institution’s liaison. There is a fee for this service.
- Compliance Certification. The institution prepares and submits its Compliance Certification, relevant supporting documentation, and an updated “Institutional Summary Form Prepared for Commission Reviews” to Commission staff and to the Off-Site Reaffirmation Committee. Part II of this handbook addresses preparation of the Compliance Certification.
- Off-Site Review and Report. The Off-Site Reaffirmation Committee remotely reviews the institution’s Compliance Certification and then meets to finalize the report of its findings. Part III of this handbook discusses the role and responsibilities of this committee, the materials to be sent to each member, and the report that it writes.
- Review of the Report. Commission staff transmit the Off-Site Reaffirmation Committee report to the institution and invite the Leadership Team to schedule a telephone conference call or videoconference with them to discuss the findings.
- Materials for the Committee. The Commission sends the On-Site Reaffirmation Committee a copy of the Off-Site Reaffirmation Committee’s report. The institution submits its updated Institutional Summary Form Prepared for Commission Reviews, Compliance Certification (narratives only), catalog(s), written response to Third Party comment (if applicable), Quality Enhancement Plan, and Focused Report (if one is prepared) to the Commission and to the On-Site Reaffirmation Committee members. Part IV of this handbook provides guidelines for developing the Focused Report and the Quality Enhancement Plan.
- On-Site Visit and Report. The On-Site Reaffirmation Committee visits the institution, including a selection of off-campus sites, if applicable, to evaluate and determine the acceptability of the QEP, to review areas of non-compliance noted by the Off-Site Reaffirmation Committee, to review standards and requirements related to the criteria established by the U.S. Department of Education, and to review any areas of concern that may surface during the visit. The On-Site Reaffirmation Committee completes the Report of the Reaffirmation Committee, which is submitted to the Commission. The institution’s Commission staff representative transmits the Committee’s final report to the institution. Part V of this handbook discusses the role and responsibilities of this Committee, the materials to be sent to each member, and the report that it writes. Part V also provides information about hosting the Committee during its campus visit.
- Response to the Visiting Committee Report. The institution prepares a response to the recommendations in the Report of the Reaffirmation Committee, if any, and submits it to the Commission along with a copy of the QEP. The Commission staff representative sends a copy of the response to the Chair of the On-Site Reaffirmation Committee for evaluation. Part VI of this handbook describes the Board of Trustee’s three-step review process, addresses preparation of the materials to be submitted for Board review, and provides guidance for responding to requests for subsequent monitoring and for preparing the Fifth-Year Interim Report.
- Board of Trustees Action. After review of the three primary reaffirmation documents — Report of the Reaffirmation Committee, the QEP, and the institution’s response – and
two analyses of the institution’s response, one by Chair of the On-Site Reaffirmation Committee and one by the institution’s Commission staff representative, the SACSCOC Board of Trustees takes action on the institution’s reaffirmation.
Compliance Status. Much as the institution was asked to record its level of compliance with each standard in the Compliance Certification, the Off-Site Reaffirmation Committee chooses one of the following four options to record its overall judgment of the level of compliance documented for each standard:
- When the Off-Site Reaffirmation Committee determines that the institution has presented a convincing and appropriately documented case for compliance with the standard, it marks Compliance.
- When the Off-Site Reaffirmation Committee determines that the institution has not presented a convincing and/or appropriately documented case for compliance with all of the compliance components in the standard, it marks Non-Compliance.
- When no documentation of compliance is available for review by the Off-Site Reaffirmation Committee, it marks Did Not Review.
- When a standard addresses an issue that is outside the purview of an institution’s mission (for example, when an institution has no intercollegiate athletics or offers no graduate programs), the Off-Site Reaffirmation Committee marks Not Applicable. A quick review of these declarations of compliance status gives an institution an immediate sense of the amount of work that remains to be done for reaffirmation. A thorough understanding of additional tasks that must be undertaken to complete the documentation of compliance with The Principles of accreditation, however, cannot be achieved without a close reading of the narratives accompanying the standards that were not marked Compliance.
Narrative. Narratives briefly describe the facts that support the Committee’s judgment of the institution’s documented level of compliance. In doing so, they summarize and/or reference the policies, procedures, processes, publications, organizations, and assessment results that provide primary evidence of complying with the components in the standard. For those standards marked Compliance, the narratives prepared by the Off-Site Reaffirmation Committee provide the historical record of how the institution documented compliance during the current reaffirmation; the On-Site Reaffirmation Committee generally makes very few, if any, changes to these narratives. Of more interest to the institution immediately after the off-site review are the narratives written for the standards marked Non-Compliance, for these narratives not only summarize the extent of any partial compliance that was documented in the Compliance Certification, but more importantly, they identify which components in the standards require further documentation of compliance to be assembled for review on site. Narratives for standards marked Did Not Review are a clear sign either to present to the On-Site Reaffirmation Committee all of the documentation that the Off-Site Reaffirmation Committee was unable to access or to develop documentation for an applicable standard that the institution had not addressed in the Compliance Certification. Appendix III-2 provides examples of narratives for these three levels of compliance.
For most institutions with off-campus sites that offer fifty percent or more of an educational program, the review of a representative sample of these locations is usually scheduled for the day before the On-Site Reaffirmation Committee arrives on campus or for the morning of the first day of the visit. For institutions with many off-campus sites that must be visited or with scheduled visits to off-campus sites abroad, the review of some or all of these locations may be scheduled earlier than the week of the Committee’s visit to the main campus. In all instances, the institution’s Commission staff representative selects the sites, which are generally visited by two members of the Committee to determine whether the institution has adequate personnel, facilities, and resources to operate the sites. Further information about these off-campus visits is available in Commission policy “Reaffirmation of Accreditation and Subsequent Reports” at www.sacscoc.org.
Two years in advance of an institution’s scheduled reaffirmation of accreditation, the Commission posts on its website a call for thirdparty comments. For Track A institutions, third-party comments are due on August 30 prior to the on-site visit; for Track B institutions, third-party comments are due on January 15 prior to the on-site visit. In both instances, the comments are forwarded to the institution. The institution is then invited to prepare a written response to the comments for review during the institution’s on-site visit. Additional information is available in Commission’s policy “Third-Party Comment by the Public” at www.sacscoc.org.
The last responsibility of the On-Site Reaffirmation Committee is to conduct an Exit Conference with key institutional personnel. At that time, the Committee presents any recommendations included in its report and discusses with the institution the strengths and weaknesses of the Quality Enhancement Plan, along with a sampling of its other observations and comments. The SACSCOC staff representative outlines the timetable for transmittal of the committee’s report to the institution and describes the process for submitting appropriate documents to the SACSCOC Board of Trustees for the Board’s action regarding reaffirmation.
An On-Site Reaffirmation Committee includes a minimum of seven members: the Chair and evaluators in the areas of organization and governance, faculty, educational programs, student support or library services, institutional effectiveness, and the Quality Enhancement Plan. If the most recent audit was not available in time for off-site review, a finance evaluator is often added. The Commission staff representative may expand the size of the committee even further if the Off-Site Reaffirmation Committee has identified an abundance of issues for further review on campus or if the institution has numerous off-campus sites that must be visited. None of the Committee members may be from institutions in the same state as the home campus of the institution being visited. At a meeting approximately one year prior to the dates for the on-site visits, Commission staff identify Committee Chairs for all of the institutions in the class scheduled for review during that term; institutions are asked to confirm that the identified individuals have no conflict of interest before staff invite them to assume leadership for the on-site reviews. Approximately six months prior to the visit, Commission staff representatives individually fill the remaining slots on the Committee.
When evaluators accept positions on On-Site Reaffirmation Committees, they are asked to attest to having no conflict of interest with the institution. (See Commission policy “Ethical Obligations of Commission Evaluators” at www.sacscoc.org. That same policy establishes an expectation that individuals with a vested interest in the institution scheduled for review will refrain from attempting to influence an evaluator’s judgment or otherwise influence the upcoming visit. Institutions need to refrain from contacting members of the On-Site Reaffirmation Committee for reasons other than providing necessary information about logistical arrangements for the visit, distributing the required institutional materials for the review, responding to inquiries for additional materials, or for clarification about materials provided.
At least three months prior to the on-site review, the institution is responsible for nominating an individual to serve as the lead evaluator for the QEP. Generally an individual with expertise in the topic selected for the QEP, the Lead QEP Evaluator works with the other Committee members under the supervision of the Chair in the evaluation of the acceptability of the Quality Enhancement Plan and in the development of the narrative for Part III (Assessment of the Quality Enhancement Plan) of the Report of the Reaffirmation Committee. Details on identifying and nominating a Lead QEP Evaluator can be found in the Commission’s policy “Quality Enhancement Plan: Lead Evaluator Nomination Process” at www.sacscoc.org.
An individual with a leadership role in the reaffirmation of an institution that is just beginning its decennial review process may accompany an On-Site Reaffirmation Committee as an observer. As the label implies, this observer is not another evaluator; the observer’s role is to take home insight into the activities of an On-Site Reaffirmation Committee and pointers about preparing for reaffirmation gleaned from conversations with persons at the host institution. Like the evaluators on the On-Site Reaffirmation Committee, the observer cannot be from an institution located in the same state as the home campus of the host institution. Before placing an observer on a Committee, the Commission staff representative obtains the approval of the host institution’s chief executive officer. Expenses incurred by the observer are the responsibility of the observer’s institution. Further information is available in the Commission’s policy “Observers on Reaffirmation On-Site Reaffirmation Committees” at www.sacscoc.org.
Although the institution’s Commission staff representative is available on site to facilitate the work of the Committee, the Commission staff does not function as a member of the On-Site Reaffirmation Committee and does not make the determinations of institutional compliance that will be recorded in the Report of the Reaffirmation Committee. The SACSCOC staff representative will, however, listen closely to deliberations among Committee members to help ensure that the SACSCOC standards and policies are consistently applied. Part of the staff representative’s role is to provide historical information on similar institutions, as well as procedural and substantive advice on how Commission policies and standards have been interpreted and could be applied to the current situation.
The length of time that an On-Site Reaffirmation Committees typically spends on site extends from late morning of Day One through mid-morning of Day Three. Each of these three days has a distinctive character. On Day One, the Committee focuses on completing its review of all of the compliance issues stemming from standards marked Non-Compliance or Did Not Review by the Off-Site Reaffirmation Committee and its confirmation of compliance with the USDE standards and requirements. At this time, the Committee also addresses third-party comments, if applicable. On Day Two, the Committee focuses on reviewing the institution’s Quality Enhancement Plan. Lastly, on Day Three, the Committee presents its findings to the institution’s leadership in the Exit Conference.
Scheduling appropriate interviews and assembling additional documentation when requested to do so are the two primary responsibilities of institutions in supporting the work of the Committee during Day One. As noted earlier in this section of the handbook, On-Site Reaffirmation Committees typically create an initial list of persons to interview approximately two to three weeks prior to the visit. For this reason, most of the scheduling of meetings for the afternoon of Day One can be completed prior to the Committee’s arrival on campus. Institutions should anticipate, however, that changes will be made to this schedule after the Committee completes its Organizational Meeting at the hotel because additional materials requested by individual members and either mailed to them the week before or left for review in the hotel conference room sometimes eliminate the need for a scheduled conversation. However, because review of the Committee’s draft report during the Organizational Meeting occasionally raises a question, follow-up on campus may be required. A flexible approach to making last-minute adjustments to the schedule is an important attribute for institutions to cultivate as they build a working relationship with the Committee. The afternoon of Day One is also the time when Committees frequently identify the need to review materials that have not previously been made available to them. For this reason, institutions want to ensure that sufficient staff are available to secure these materials quickly so that they can be considered by the Committee before the focus shifts to the Quality Enhancement Plan on Day Two.
Making a presentation on the Quality Enhancement Plan and assembling the groups for the QEP interviews are the two primary responsibilities of institutions in supporting the work of the Committee during Day Two. As a kick-off to the day when the Committee will focus intently on the QEP, Leadership Teams are invited to make a formal presentation of approximately twenty minutes on their plans for improving student learning, with an equivalent amount of time for questions from the Committee. Of course, having read the document sent to them, Committee members will already be acquainted with the QEP; this formal presentation, therefore, is not only an opportunity for institutions to convey their excitement about the project and show their commitment to following through, but also an opportunity to update the Committee on progress made since the drafting of the document that was mailed and to provide details that may have been eliminated from that draft. As noted earlier in this section of the handbook, On-Site Reaffirmation Committees typically create the groupings for the QEP interviews approximately two to three weeks prior to the visit. For this reason, the schedule of QEP interviews can be completed prior to the Committee’s arrival on campus, and unlike the interview requests for the afternoon of Day One, this schedule is unlikely to change.
As should be evident from the above description of the Committee’s activities on Days One through Three, on-site reviews are rigorous and do not allow time for campus tours (except to verify information regarding a requirement or standard) or for large or lengthy social gatherings. Since a great deal of work must be completed in a short amount of time, Committees appreciate the time and effort required to provide the timely transportation, quick turnaround on requests for documents, ready accommodation of schedule changes, and reliable equipment and appropriate supplies necessary to enable completion of the Report of the Reaffirmation Committee.
Typically, the On-Site Reaffirmation Committee, however, makes three major changes to the Report of the Reaffirmation Committee.
- Labels signifying Compliance and Non-Compliance are removed. In the final report, a narrative with a positive tone and no recommendations signals compliance. A narrative that highlights a shortcoming and follows with a recommendation signals non-compliance. Appendix V-1 provides sample narratives.
- Narratives for standards previously marked Non-Compliance are expanded to reference additional documentation provided in the optional Focused Report or made available on-site. If the additional materials fail to document compliance, the narrative, as illustrated in Appendix V-1, identifies the shortcoming and includes a recommendation. Institutions then have the opportunity to provide additional documentation of compliance in a subsequent report, the Response to the Visiting Committee Report, which is due five months after the Exit Conference. For further details on developing this response to the Committee’s recommendations, see Section VI of this handbook.
- A detailed analysis of the Quality Enhancement Plan is written for Part III (Assessment of the Quality Enhancement Plan) and a notation regarding the acceptability of the QEP is provided in the narrative for 2.12. On-Site Reaffirmation Committees provide two types of feedback on the QEP: (1)recommendations, which are indicative of non-compliance with CR 2.12 or CS 3.3.2 and must be addressed in the Response to the Visiting Committee Report and (2) consultative advice, which reflects the Committee’s observations for strengthening the QEP but requires no further reporting to the Commission. Because recommendations are clearly labeled and numbered, and frequently bolded, too, institutions should have no difficulty distinguishing the first from the second. Appendix V-2 provides illustrations of both.
The On-Site Reaffirmation Committee may also provide comments in Part II E (Additional Observations regarding strengths and weaknesses of the institution). Institutions should not address these observations in the Response to the Visiting Committee Report; the response is designed to convey additional documentation of compliance on recommendations written by the Committee.
Under some circumstances, such as when the reality at the institution contradicts the documentation of compliance reviewed by the Off-Site Reaffirmation Committee or when the On-Site Reaffirmation Committee has new information (perhaps stemming from a third party comment or from a recent natural disaster), the On-Site Reaffirmation Committee may write a recommendation for a standard that was previously marked Compliance during the off-site review.
By the morning of Day Three, the Committee’s report is complete, but a hard copy of this draft is not given to institutions during the Exit Conference. In general, the Chair edits the draft report and e-mails it to the Committee and to the Commission staff representative for their final review the week after the visit. Before finalizing the report, the Chair also emails a copy to the institution for review of its factual accuracy. At this time, the institution should review the factual references in the report (such as dates, names of campuses and committees, position titles, enrollment numbers, and financial figures) and confirm their accuracy or provide corrections. Institutions must limit their review to representations of fact and avoid suggesting changes to the Committee’s interpretation and analysis of those facts. After the Chair has incorporated final edits and factual corrections, the final copy of the Report of the Reaffirmation Committee is sent to the institution’s Commission staff representative, who then forwards a hard copy to the institution.