By Luis Quintanilla
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools recently accredited Volunteer State Community College.
SACS visited Vol State’s main campus at Gallatin, as well as its off-site campuses, Oct. 7-10, and evaluated the college’s academic standards.
The evaluation passed “with flying colors said Dr. George Pimentel, Vice President of the Office of Academic Affairs.
According to its website, SACS is an accrediting body for the colleges in Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Florida, Virginia, and Tennessee. SACS ensures the colleges in these states are holding up their academic standards, giving students a quality education, and aiding in students’ success.
“They want to look at quality and how we’re running things. One of the main aspects of accreditation is they’re going to ask us, ‘How do you guys deal with X,’ whatever it might be, so we have internal policies, and they want to check to make sure we’re actually following them,” said Pimentel.
Pimentel said while most colleges are given several recommendations and suggestions on things to address within the school after being evaluated, he stated Vol State had very little, if anything, in the way of recommendations. “They approved our QEP. That’s our Quality Enhancement Plan. So that was approved. They did make some suggestions about maybe scaling it back, but we’re still looking at what we want to do with some data, but from a perspective of all the other
things that must be verified when they come and looking at our overall report of all the accreditation standards, we passed with flying colors,” explained Pimentel.
The QEP is a five-year project to increase student success. Vol State’s QEP is the First Year Experience. As of right now this project will include two courses freshmen will be required to
take. These courses, according to Jessica Lewis, Vol State’s Special Assistant for Strategic Initiatives/QEP Director, is to help foster student success in their first year at Vol State. However, regarding the recommendation by SACS to scale back the program, Pimentel stated this recommendation was to maybe only require these courses for a certain group of students in certain programs rather than requiring them for all freshmen. These students “might be more at risk based on our historical data,” said Pimentel.
Pimentel said the QEP will at first be concentrated at these students. “We are still talking about that and will hopefully make a decision in the next two weeks about if we want to scale back or anything. It will still be mandatory for whatever group we choose. We do have data, depending on your program, people that are in the A.A.S. program versus people that are in what we call University Parallel or the A.A. and A.S. programs, on what are their retention and graduation rates and we will look at both those two groups of students and probably mandate it for one or both of them,” said Pimentel.
Other than this and additional information needed from Vol State for SACS to review, Pimentel stated there were no dings for the school.
As far as any accolades the school may have received, Pimentel said, “The accolade is that when we were in our exit briefing, for them to say we have nothing to recommend is unbelievable. I’m very happy and I’m very proud of the faculty and staff that worked really hard to get this done.”
The committee of SACS began by accompanying Pimentel and Colette Catania, the Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness, Research, Planning, and Assessment, to Vol State’s off-site campuses at Highland Crest and two of its EMT sites.
“They wanted to see how our facilities are besides just main campus,” said Pimentel.
The next day consisted of interviews said Pimentel. “They had a stack of things that are required by law that they have to verify, and they asked questions when it was appropriate or when they needed information for us to explain something. It was a real long day of them asking various people questions.”
Some of these people who were interviewed, according to Pimentel, were Dr. Jerry Faulkner, President of Vol State, Pimentel himself, faculty, and students. “It was a large cross-section across campus. A lot of people were asked to help either be interviewed or participate in meetings.”
Lewis said that people from the committee of SACS would stop and ask students random students while walking on campus about their experience at Vol State.
“They did do that,” confirmed Pimentel. “I couldn’t tell you who they selected, but while they were walking around, here and they also went to Livingston and Cookeville as well, they randomly asked students and faculty as they were walking around. They told us when they first came in here that they would leave no stone unturned,” said Pimentel.
The point of accreditation, according to SACS website, is to ensure a school is meeting its academic standards and aiding in student success.
“What they’re most interested in is that we are trying to solve an issue with the QEP, and that issue is helping students succeed and be retained and graduate. We want to up those numbers, and so part of what we’re going to be doing is collecting data to see if we are successful to be honest with you. So will be evaluating all of that because we are not going to do something that’s not working. And so if we need to we get that along the way that’s what we’re going to do,” reiterated Pimentel.
The importance of accreditation comes from several reasons stated Pimentel. “One is for us internally. One great way to examine yourself is to take a deep dive, and look at what we’re doing. Look at our policies. Look at our procedures. It’s a really great way of looking for us to improve as an organization,” said Pimentel.
Pimentel extended the importance of accreditation to students since it allows the school to award financial aid. “From a perspective of the students in the school, if we don’t successfully keep our accreditation standard and in good standing why we won’t be able to do financial aid. We won’t be able to offer student financial aid and you can see how that could be devastating to our student population,” said Pimentel.