The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) will be at Volunteer State Community College Oct. 7-10 to evaluate the college’s academic standards in order to accredit it.
Vol State is due for a reaffirmation by the accrediting agency, SACS, which will evaluate the school to ensure it is meeting its academic standards and giving students the education they need.
According to the website College and Degrees, “Accreditation is a process in which outside agencies evaluate a school’s programs to ensure that they meet applicable academic standards.”
Jessica Lewis, Vol State’s Special Assistant for Strategic Initiatives/QEP Director, said, “The accreditation process is every 10 years. We have to go up for reaffirmation, and that just means that they’re going to come in, and they’re going to look and make sure that we’re doing everything we’re supposed to be doing so that students are getting the education that they’re supposed to be getting.”
The accrediting agency that evaluates Vol State is SACS, the Southern Association of Colleges ans Schools. According to SACS website they cover the southern states of Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Florida, Virginia and Tennessee.
“They’re kind of our accountability,” said Lewis, “They keep us accountable for making sure that we’re actually doing what we’re saying that we’re doing, so that we are providing students with the best education possible and giving them all of the opportunities they need to be able to be successful and for their credits to mean something.”
The importance of accreditation, said Lewis, is that it allows the college to give students financial aid and makes for easier transfer to different schools. “You would want to attend a college that’s regionally accredited because a regionally accredited institution is going to be able to make your classes more easily transferable. You’ll be able to receive financial aid there.”
According to College and Degrees, accreditation also matters to employers, since while hiring, they will check to make sure the institution from which the degree was received is accredited.
Being unaccredited means the college will not be allowed to give students financial aid and may make it more difficult to transfer to another institution said Lewis.
“One of the biggest pieces is that we are able to award students financial aid. If we were not regionally accredited we would not be able to provide students with financial aid. So being regionally accredited is something that’s really important. When you are looking at schools, if you’re looking at transferring somewhere, you want to see what their accreditation is.”
According to Lewis there are different types of accreditation. “You have the regional accreditation which is for the entire school and then a lot of times you have program accreditation. Most of our health science programs for example nursing or anything like that will also have additional accreditation steps that they have to take. Any time we start a new program, we open a new site, anytime we do anything new, we have to submit information to SACS to say, ‘hey, we’re doing this new thing,’ so we’re constantly in communication with them, but they do this big review every 10 years,” said Lewis.
In the process of evaluating Vol State to determine if it will be accredited, Lewis said, “They’ll look at everything.”
Lewis said a committee composed of around 7 people in SACS will go to Vol State’s different campuses before heading to the main Gallatin campus.
“They will go to some of our off site campuses. They’ll go to Highland Crest, then go to Livingston, and then they’ll go to a couple of our EMT sites. They’ll talk to some people there. They’ll see how everything is at those other locations, and then the next two days they’ll be here on campus. They’ll meet with students, faculty, and staff. They will hear a presentation about our Quality Enhancement Plan. They’ll get to ask questions. They’ll do all of these things and then on Thursday the 10th, they’ll give us any recommendations that they have,” said Lewis.
The committee of SACS, when visiting in October, will meet with select students from different student organizations, but may also stop and ask students on campus of their experience at Vol State said Lewis. “They might randomly stop a student and say, ‘Hey, we just want to hear about your experience, or do you know what the QEP is,’ and so those are those things that could happen over the through the 8th 9th and 10th,” said Lewis. “They want to make sure that students are getting the education that they should be getting, that we are doing what we say we’re going to be doing,” said Lewis.
“There are several principles of accreditation for SACS,” stated Lewis.
One of initial steps of the process is the college summing up a report over the span of several years said Lewis. This report contains all of the accrediting standards the school has to meet, such as annual reviewing of faculty and staff and a Quality Enhancement Plan. The report goes to an off-site committee where they will review it and let the college know what can be done better according to Lewis. One of the aspects of that report is the QEP, the Quality Enhancement Plan.
“QEP is a five-year project that we have to do that will increase student success in some way shape or form. Our Quality Enhancement Plan is the First Year Experience. So we have designed a first-year experience and are starting to implement the different pieces that over the next year. That includes I revised and revamped Campus Connect and new student orientation. There’ll be a new student convocation which will happen the week before classes start,” said Lewis.
This QEP will include two First Year Experience classes for freshmen, First Year Experience 1 and First Year Experience 2, according to Lewis. The first course, FYEX 1030, “will focus more on academic success, helping students understand the importance of studying, the importance of your mindset, helping you understand how to be a self-advocate, things like that,” said Lewis. The second course, FYEX 1040, “is going to be focused more on career success. So career development, career research, resume writing, interview skills. All of the stuff that students need access to to be successful beyond their time here at Vol State,” said Lewis.
This QEP, said Lewis, is not just a part of the accreditation process but the college’s goal to ensure it is meeting the education students need to be successful.
“What we found is that we have a lot of students who from spring to fall who stay here. So, if you started in the fall, you’ll usually come back in the spring, but we have a lot of students who
don’t come back the following fall. And so what we’re doing with the First Year Experience is we’re trying to build more opportunities for connection and belonging. So that students feel like hey, ‘I belong at Vol State. I’m not going to drop out or stop out. I’m going to complete my degree,’ because that’s really what the main point of this is. To help students understand that we’re here to support them, and we want them to be successful,” said Lewis.