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Magazine On-line [fall 2012]
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Around Campus

Transylvania receives reaffirmation of accreditation

Transylvania received formal notification in July of its reaffirmation of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS-COC).

SACS-COC is the regional accrediting association (one of six in the nation) for degree-granting higher education institutions in the southern United States. All member institutions undergo a rigorous reevaluation of their accreditation every 10 years.

“It is never assured that any college will get its reaffirmation of accreditation, but in Transylvania’s case, we came through swimmingly,” said President R. Owen Williams. “And that’s because we have so many first-rate people here in every task and office on campus. They are very committed to doing their jobs well, and that makes all the difference.”

The nearly three-year process began in the fall of 2009 with appointment of a leadership team charged with fulfilling the two components of the SACS-COC review—a compliance certification report and a quality enhancement plan (QEP).

Mathematics and computer science professor emeritus James E. Miller coordinated the compliance certification report, with writing support from mathematics professor David Shannon. The report, submitted in March 2011, documented Transylvania’s compliance with a range of SACS-COC standards, including such items as demonstrating that the university has a qualified faculty, sufficient financial resources, and a high-quality library. The report also explained how Transylvania assesses its academic programs and academic support areas such as the dean’s office and admissions, among others.

There were seven points that SACS-COC asked Transylvania to provide further input on, which the university did in August 2011, the same time the QEP was submitted.

Classics professor John Svarlien chaired the QEP process, with support from co-chairs interim vice president and dean of the college Kathleen Jagger and associate vice president for retention and associate dean of students Michael Covert ’91.

The QEP consists of a new course for all entering first-year students titled First Engagements: Enculturation into a Scholarly Community. It is the core academic component of August term, an innovative new three-week term that is also for all first-year students. First Engagements introduces students to the concepts of liberal education through an emphasis on critical reading and analysis, as well as a perspective on interdisciplinary learning. It also helps them transition from high school academics to the rigors and practices of college studies at Transylvania, including classroom participation and research requirements.

After the QEP was presented to SACS-COC, there was an on-campus visit in October 2011 by the SACS committee assigned to Transylvania’s evaluation, which consisted of peers from other colleges and universities. That group came back with three recommendations—two related to assessment and one to the QEP—that Transylvania responded to in a March 2012 follow-up report. Finally, in July 2012, SACS-COC gave its stamp of approval to Transylvania’s reaffirmation of accreditation.

Williams said that Transylvania set out to do something truly remarkable and different with its QEP, and succeeded.

“The First Engagements course within the context of an August term is highly experimental,” he said. “The fact that we’re doing something this aggressive in the way of preparing our students for their liberal arts experience speaks volumes about the courage and ability of our faculty.”

Further, Williams believes August term and First Engagements have the potential to be trend-setting within the national higher education community.

“I think our QEP will become a model for other institutions,” he said. “Many colleges would not take on a project as ambitious as the one we chose for our QEP. We set a very high bar, and we crossed over it in a truly exemplary fashion. I believe Transylvania is the better for it, and I think it’s quite possible that other colleges will also be better for what we’re doing. I think it will go down as one of the best QEPs ever done at any college.”

Although the 2012 reaffirmation process is complete, there is a sense in which the process of assessment and improvement related to the expectations of SACS-COC never ends. In that context, there is already assessment taking place surrounding August term and First Engagements.

Rhyan Conyers, director of institutional research and assessment, served as Transylvania’s liaison with SACS-COC for the reaffirmation process. He said that preliminary assessment findings are positive.

“Already, we have the sense that students became better critical readers as a result of the course,” he said.

Williams said he was very pleased with the effort the university put forth, and with the reassuring results as seen in the SACS-COC responses.

“A lot of people from all areas of the campus community were involved in getting us through the reaffirmation of accreditation process, and we came through it smelling like a rose.”

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