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Edison State College appears on its way to reaccreditation after an evaluation team Thursday disclosed no new findings of noncompliance.
The committee did issue 14 recommendations, though, requiring the college to shore up academic policies, improve assessment strategies and hire more full-time faculty. None of those issues was a surprise to District President Kenneth Walker, who said college staff will use the suggestions to streamline policies and procedures in the coming months.
We look at it as a way to help us become a better institution going forward, Walker said.
A full academic and operational review is required every 10 years by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Its Commission on Colleges accredits schools that comply with 80 standards drafted by member institutions, providing independent certification that a college is offering high-quality academic programs.
Despite Walkers optimism, one of the 14 recommendations dealt with the commissions first standard: The institution operates with integrity in all matters. The committee did not specify exactly what concerns led to that citation, but former vice president for academic affairs Steve Atkins believes one clear-cut violation staff allowing students to graduate faster by avoiding some required courses is the likely source.
An integrity violation is the most serious of offenses, said Atkins, who was fired Oct. 25 and has a pending whistle-blower case. Its synonymous with gross, unethical behavior on the part of administration, and the greatest focus is on the CEO because its about the organization as a whole.
The evaluation team, led by Andrew Fulp, vice president for information technology at Savannah College of Art and Design, spent three days on campus interviewing administrators, faculty and students. Fulp briefed Walker on Thursday on the teams findings, but the committee gave no hints about Edisons likelihood of being reaccredited with or without conditions.
Its not their responsibility to indicate anything as it relates to their accreditation, said Barry Goldstein, vice president of SACS Commission on Colleges. Thats a board decision.
Edison will receive a written report within a few weeks, then have five months to draft a final response. The commissions board of trustees will decide in June whether Edison will be reaccredited outright or face future monitoring.
Reaccreditation also included the development of a quality enhancement plan, or QEP, that outlines strategies to improve the student retention rate, graduation rate and academic performance. Starting next year, Edison will require freshmen to enroll in the Cornerstone Experience course in which theyll learn about time management, study skills and other techniques to help them adjust to the rigors of college.
SACS committee member Myra Johnson, president of Isothermal Community College in North Carolina, said the required freshman course aligns with the colleges mission, integrates with other programs and will contribute to improved student learning.
All of those are very strong within your QEP proposal, Johnson said.
The plan will need additional focus, though, and Johnson said administration needs to be more involved for the program to be successful. Another issue is staffing; Edison simply doesnt have enough professors to handle an extra course that will be mandatory for thousands of students each year, she said.
Edison has faced a multitude of struggles this year, starting with faculty displeasure of executive compensation and resignations of highly regarded administrators to an investigation that found staffers approved improper course substitutions, allowing students to graduate without taking some required courses. In August, officials disclosed that baccalaureate nursing students were misled about the programs industry accreditation; it had none.
Of those aforementioned issues, Fulp only cited course substitutions during his presentation Thursday, and Walker said committee members were complimentary as they left campus.
Several of them said to me as they were leaving, You have a great institution here. You have students who are happy with the courses they are taking. With the faculty, theyre happy with the environment of the institution. You just need to work on these 14 areas, tighten up the policies and procedures, Walker said.
And thats what were going to do.