Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, president of The University of Texas-Pan American and four other UTPA representatives recently traveled to Atlanta for an overview of the reaffirmation process for accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the regional accreditation agency for the Southern region of the United States. The reaccreditation process, last completed in 1996 at UTPA, began in 2001 following a redesign of the process by SACS and is expected to be completed by late 2007.
"The orientation session, which is regarded as the official beginning of UTPA's reaffirmation cycle, was designed to give an overview of the affirmation process, set future dates and introduce SACS staff representatives for our University," said Dr. William L. Turk, UTPA assistant professor of political science and the SACS accreditation coordinator and liaison.
Accreditation is a voluntary, independent review of an institution's educational programs and their adherence to accepted academic standards. It determines a school's eligibility for participation in Title IV (federal) and state financial aid programs as well as the acceptance and transfer of college credits of its students. Graduation from an accredited institution also qualifies its students for admission to higher education (graduate school), more specialized institutions or for professional practice. UTPA was first accredited in 1956.
The latest reaffirmation process has two components - one is a collection of 73 compliance statements regarding SACS requirements, which UTPA must prove it is in compliance with, and part two is a written QEP designed to be a narrowly focused plan to improve student learning into the future. Compliance and quality enhancement plan teams comprised of administrators, faculty, staff and students were formed fall 2004.
The compliance statements touch upon the whole institution, Turk said, ranging from the physical plant, to alumni activities, to course syllabi and student learning. Griffith's compliance team of 25 members is completing narratives and documentation for the 73 compliance statements. Last year Davidson's QEP team of 30 members developed a title and direction for UTPA's QEP -"GEAR UP for Graduation: A Model for Academic Success for First Generation Mexican-American University Students." Phase II of the QEP will begin September 2005 with research, workshops and other activities directed toward writing the plan for UTPA's future, which will include a course of action for implementing, assessing and institutionalizing the plan.
As SACS coordinator, Turk oversees a third team - an 11-member Leadership Team which acts as an overall steering committee monitoring the progress of other teams.
While in Atlanta, Turk said UTPA representatives were introduced to Dr. Gerald Lord, SACS associate executive director and the representative from SACS assigned to UTPA as a consultant through the remainder of the reaccreditation process. Lord will review UTPA's progress during a visit to campus Sept. 25-26, 2006 and eventually lead the group of volunteers from peer institutions who will evaluate the University for recommendation for reaccreditation during an on-site review scheduled for April 17-19, 2007.
The one-day orientation session conducted June 13 also featured presentations from other institutions that have recently completed the reaccreditation process including Georgia Institute of Technology, Agnes Scott College, Mercer University and the University of Memphis. Before departing, Turk said, important dates were set for upcoming events and activities involved in the multi-year process.
Turk will travel to the University of Southern Mississippi in April 2006 to observe firsthand how the SACS on-site review is conducted. Significant deadline dates include Sept. 8, 2006 for the Compliance Certificate and March 6, 2007 for the final QEP.
Following the on-site review in April 2007, the SACS Board of Governors will vote on UTPA's reaffirmation of accreditation at its annual meeting in December 2007.
For more information on the university's reaccreditation process, log on to the UTPA SACS Web site at http://sacs.panam.edu