University readies for re-accreditation

With 387 days left until the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools returns to the University to begin its reaffirmation process, FAMU is already making preparations to meet and exceed the newly developed 2008 SACS expectations.

Beginning Jan. 1, FAMU joined the ranks of universities such as Yale, Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology with its reclassification as a Level VI school. The SACS Monitor, FAMU’s bi-monthly SACS newsletter distributed through FAMU info mail, said schools receive their classification level based upon the number of degree programs they offer.

Because of administration problems beginning in 2003, such as the lack of a permanent president, FAMU failed to tackle all issues from the 1998 SACS review.

However, with the clearance of most of the other matters in December 2006, FAMU SACS officials have now jumped head first into preparing for 2008.

“I primarily have been working to clear outstanding issues from the 1998 SACS visit, but now that all issues were cleared, I as a director can turn all my attention to the 2008 visit,” said Vivian Hobbs, FAMU SACS director.

In an effort to attain reaffirmation, FAMU has utilized testing tools such as the Measures of Academic Proficiency and Progress academic test and exit surveys to gauge students’ achievements.

In addition, the National Survey of Student Engagement is administered to students to find out their perceptions on topics such as the number of written papers they are assigned, the number of books they are assigned to read and the quality of e-mail communication they have with their professors. All of these things are factors the Commission on Colleges look for when deciding whether or not a school will receive re-accreditation.

Uche Ohia, director of university assessment, said the General Education Assessment Committee is another facet the University uses for student assessment.

“(They) work seriously with the faculty by taking samples of student work to see how well they write,” Ohia said.

Additionally, Ohia said peer reviews and focus groups are in the works.

In an effort to gear up for its electronic compliance audit in September and its Quality Enhancement Plan in December, FAMU SACS officials will be targeting a number of issues, including faculty credentials.

FAMU SACS officials did a sweep last semester that uncovered numerous faculty members with questionable credentials. However, a second sweep is planned for around Feb. 1. because of new hires and new information.

“Anytime you’re dealing with 600 to 700 people, you may not get everybody the first time,” Hobbs said.

The SACS Monitor stated that in order to meet credential standards faculty must have an official transcript from an accredited school and a minimum of 18 graduate hours in the subject they are teaching.

Hobbs said some of the faculty had poor reception of the eligibility requirements.

“It’s not that they are not aware of their shortcomings,” she said. “They’ve been schooled. The president even said she’d reimburse them for taking the courses.”

In addition, Hobbs declined to comment on which colleges would be targeted in the upcoming sweep.

However, she said, “I’m concerned about colleges that have a high content of alternative qualifications for (SACS Standard) 3.71.”

Also, Hobbs responded to FAMU Student Body President Phillip Agnew’s accusations at a December board of trustees meeting in which he alleged that students were not well-represented among the 12 standing SACS committees.

“I have asked for students,” she said.

“If (students) feel that they have time they can come by the office. I’d like to do it on a voluntary basis,” Hobbs continued.

“There are just some committees that it’s not appropriate for students to work on,” Hobbs said. She cited the committee on faculty credentials as one that is off limits to students because a lawsuit could result.

Like many of her peers, Sherika Highman, expressed her interest in accreditation.

“I’m interested in accreditation because it can be important to whatever job I’m looking at,” said the 23-year-old graduate public health student from St. Augustine.

However, Highman admitted she is not very knowledgeable of all the particulars of FAMU’s accreditation process.

“All I know about FAMU accreditation is what the school provides over the Web site.”

Ohia said she hopes to be prepared by the time 2008 rolls around not just for SACS, but also for the sake of the University.

“You have to do everything possible to make sure you’re in compliance,” she said. “Universities should do assessments not because of SACS but because they are interested in continuous quality improvement.”

Hobbs expressed similar sentiments.

“My primary objective is to save FAMU. If you don’t get re-affirmed you loose your federal bargaining power.”