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Know Your QEP at UTPA
By Gail Fagan, Public Affairs Specialist
381-2741
Posted: 04/11/2007
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As The University of Texas-Pan American approaches the end of the years-long process of the reaffirmation of its accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) Commission on Colleges, a major component of that multi-faceted process – a Quality Enhancement Plan or QEP – will be under review when SACS officials visit the campus April 16-19. The development of the QEP, an element added by SACS when it redesigned its accreditation process in 2001, was overseen by a 30-member team headed by Judy Davidson, director of the Writing Center at UTPA. Davidson said it is important that the whole campus community “know your QEP at UTPA” and was able to provide some key information in the following question-and-answer presentation.

What is the nature and purpose of the QEP?

In requiring a QEP as part of the reaccreditation process, SACS fulfills its mission to reflect and affirm a commitment to enhancing the quality of higher education through enriching student learning. Many aspects of the accreditation process focus on the University’s accomplishments over the past 10 years, but the QEP part of the reaffirmation of accreditation process is the forward-looking part. UTPA must demonstrate to SACS that it has developed an acceptable QEP and that it is part of the University’s ongoing planning and evaluation process.

Who created the QEP and how was it developed at UTPA?

The QEP is the brainchild idea of SACS, the accreditation agency for universities across the South. SACS recommends that each institution has broad-based institutional support and participation in the identification of a topic or area the QEP will address. At UTPA, President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas appointed a 2004-2005 QEP Phase I committee that included representatives from faculty, staff, and students from across the entire campus community. During the first year, this committee met and researched areas of student needs on campus, listened to individuals from all areas of campus discuss ideas about enhancing student learning, held Town Hall meetings and focus groups sessions for all six UTPA colleges and Town Hall meetings also for students and University staff. After reviewing and streamlining all the accumulated ideas at the end of that first year, President Cárdenas appointed Dr. Karen Watt in the Department of Educational Leadership and AVID director, to be the QEP project manager. Working with Watt was a second year (2005-2006) Phase II committee created by President Cárdenas to focus the ideas and research from the first year’s work further on a chosen QEP topic. During 2006-2007, a Phase II subcommittee has finished writing the QEP document and is currently publicizing it as well as preparing for its presentation to the SACS on-site review team coming to campus in April.

What is the QEP title and topic?

The QEP title is “Enhancing Learning for Mexican-American Students in Gatekeeper Mathematics Courses.” The topic focuses on the first three algebra courses that UTPA students have the most difficulties in passing – MATH 1300 Elementary Algebra, MATH 1334 Intermediate Algebra and MATH 1340 College Algebra.

Why was this QEP topic chosen?

After all the University-wide research, discussion and deliberation, the committee found that these three algebra courses posed the most difficult hurdles for students to pass among all the courses offered. Therefore, this was the logical area to address to best respond to the SACS’ assignment which required the University to focus on an area of greatest need for enhancing student learning.

How will the QEP help students pass algebra at UTPA?

The committee took an extensive look at the teaching methods used in the present math courses. With feedback from math department faculty who actually teach those methods, recommendations from faculty from other UTPA colleges, and research gathered on other universities’ methods for teaching college algebra, the committee developed suggestions for increasing student success in several ways – enhancing the curriculum, enhancing student support and enhancing faculty development. Some of the methods for assisting students to achieve success include:

- 4th hour discussion section

- Enhanced tutor training

- Enhanced student assistant training

- Improve student note-taking skills

- Modified Early Warning System

- Modular course structure of three modules per course

- Contemporary curriculum

- Faculty development

How will UTPA know if these methods are helping students or not?

SACS requires that UTPA assess the students and courses each semester so that the new methods can be monitored carefully. SACS will send a team in five years to examine our progress. UTPA will keep extensive assessment records which will be monitored closely by the Project Director and a committee. At the time when the SACS team revisits the campus, if we are showing improvement, then they will most likely tell us to keep on doing what we are doing until the 10-year cycle for reaccreditation approaches. If we are not showing improved student success in these math courses, then SACS will most likely make recommendations for modifications and improvements of what we are doing. Once the plan is piloted in 2007-2008, we plan to conduct an annual review ourselves. We are hoping if our QEP is successful in improving our students’ performance, it will serve as a model for other institutions.

Who will manage the QEP?

The QEP will be managed by a QEP project director. Dr. Olga Ramirez, professor of mathematics, has been appointed by Dr. Paul Sale, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, as interim project director. While the QEP will be closely coordinated within the Department of Mathematics, the QEP project will continue to be accountable to the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

What exact date will the SACS on-site review team be on the UTPA campus?

The team will be on campus April 16-19. The peer review team members will expect the University community to be aware of the QEP and SACS reaffirmation of accreditation activities.

How can a faculty or staff member, student or anyone interested learn more about the SACS accreditation process at UTPA and the QEP?

There is a SACS reaffirmation of accreditation Web site at http://sacs.utpa.edu/sacs/ The entire 92-page QEP can be accessed at http://sacs.utpa.edu/qep/QEP_2007.pdf Questions can be directed to Dr. William Turk, UTPA assistant professor of political science and the SACS accreditation coordinator and liaison, at 956/381-3345 or turk@utpa.edu.