Accreditation assists in establishing accountability for educational organizations and is ascertained through regional accrediting agencies (Ratclif, Lubinsescu & Gaffney, 2001; COCSACS, 2004; Prince, 2004). Accreditation of educational organizations promotes superiority through the advancement of principles and guidelines for measuring effectiveness, and supports progress through continuing evaluation and preparation. Furthermore, ensures that a program includes evident goals and suitable objectives, sustains faculty and facilities to achieve the goals and objectives, validates the achievement of the goals and objectives, and maintains the potential for continuing to do so. Accreditation of educational organizations presents recommendations and support to new and recognized programs in the accrediting process, and makes sure that programs obtain adequate assistance and are free from hindering influences (Ratcliff, Lubinescu & Gaffney, 2001; Prince, 2004).
The following treatise will investigate the accreditation process by analyzing and summarizing accreditation guidelines of an accrediting agency, for this treatise the accrediting agency is the Commission on Colleges: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). A current case involving accreditation will be presented and include summarizing the positions of the plaintiffs and defendants in the case and what steps could have been taken to avoid the conflict.
The Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is the regional agency for accreditation of educational organizations in the Southern states that award associate, baccalaureate, master’s, or doctoral degrees (COCSACS, 2004). The Commission on Colleges maintains essential attributes of accreditation and involvement in the accreditation process is voluntary. There are several attributes of accreditation: Educational organizations develop, modify, and approve accreditation requirements and are self-regulating. The accreditation process is expressive, responsive, and fitting to the kinds of educational organizations accredited, which necessitates an educational organizations commitment and action and is based upon a peer review process. Accreditation insists uponan educational organizations dedication to student learning and success. Accreditation recognizes an educational organization’s right to communicate a mission within the established framework of higher education and the accountability to demonstrate accomplishing that missionwhile requiring an educational organization to foster a stable governing structure intended to encourage organizational independence and adaptable capabilities. Moreover,Accreditation insists that support and resources that permit growth and advancement of students accompany an educational organization’s programs (COCSACS, 2004).
The first undertaking of the Commissionin view of accreditation is to determine the educational organization’s integrity and dedication to quality enhancement. These two main beliefs function as the foundation of the association between the Commission and educational organizations (COCSACS, 2004). Integrity is crucial to the purpose of educational organizations and all parties concerned must deal honestly and openly with one another. Quality enhancement includes the commitment of educational organizations to enhance the quality of programs and services to create an optimal learning environment (COCSACS, 2004).
According to Kells, (as cited in Ratcliff, Lubinescu & Gaffney, 2001) there are at least five steps in the accreditation process. The accrediting body sets standards, produces guidelines for educational organizations, and frequently offers training to peers in the program review process. The program expresses goals and objectives, faculty, facilities, and courses of study, and assesses strengths and weaknesses comparative to the goals.
An evaluation team of peers recognized by the accrediting agency visits the program, employing the guidelines and standards to inspect faculty, facilities, students, and administrators. The team presents an oral interpretation along with a written account to the accrediting agency and to the educational organization under review (Ratcliff, Lubinescu & Gaffney, 2001).
The educational organization and faculty reply to the accounts, and offer additional verification where questions remain, and specify any exceptions with the discovery of the accounts. The accrediting agency determines whether to grant, reaffirm, or deny accreditation to the educational organization basedupon the self-study, the visiting team’s conclusions, and the educational organization’s response (Ratcliff, Lubinescu & Gaffney, 2001).
Accreditation by the Commission on Colleges indicates that an educational organization maintains an objective suitable to higher education and possesses resources, programs, and services adequate to achieve and maintain that objective. The process for initial and continued accreditation entails a combined assessment and judgment by an educational organization’s inner community, an informed review by peers outside the educational organization, and a comprehensive decision by the elected members of the Commission on Colleges (COCSACS, 2004). Accredited educational organizations occasionally perform internal evaluations concerning administration, staff, faculty, students, trustees, and others relating to the process. The internal evaluation permits an educational organization to contemplate efficiency in accomplishing the mission and fulfillment of the accreditation requirements. In addition, internal evaluation aids an educational organization to assess efforts to improve the quality of student learning and the quality of programs and services presented (COCSACS, 2004).
At the conclusion of the internal examination, peer evaluators representing the Commission, apply his or her professional opinion through an initial assessment of the educational organization; elected Commissioners formulate the final determination of an educational organization’s fulfillment of the accreditation requirements (COCSACS, 2004). The Commission on Colleges accredits degree-granting higher education organizations based upon conditions in Principles of Accreditation: Foundations for Quality Enhancement (COCSACS, 2004). The Principles of Accreditation are designed to guide educational organizations through all stages of accreditation, from application through initial accreditation and reaffirmation of accreditation. Fulfillment of these conditions is intended to aid an educational organization to attain total effectiveness.
The Commission assesses an educational organization and formulates accreditation decisions focused on the following: Compliance with the Principles of Accreditation, delineated as integrity and commitment to quality enhancement, compliance with the core requirements, compliance with the comprehensive standards, and compliance with additional federal requirements (COCSACS, 2004). The denial of accreditation by the Commission is decided upon an educational organization’s failure to meet the above requirements in the in the professional opinion of peer reviewers, or failure to fulfill the policies and procedures of the Commission (COCSACS, 2004).
Compliance with the core requirements is necessary for obtaining and maintaining accreditation with the Commission on Colleges. This compliance is necessary but not sufficient to warrant accreditation. An educational organization answers to each core requirement by either substantiating compliance or interpreting circumstances for non-compliance (COCSACS, 2004).
The comprehensive standards express requirements in three areas: educational organization’s mission, governance and effectiveness, programs and resources. The comprehensive standards characterize good practices in education and institute a level of accomplishment expected of all member organizations. Educational organizations answer to each comprehensive standard either by substantiating compliance or interpreting circumstances for noncompliance (COCSACS, 2004).
The U.S. Secretary of Education acknowledges accreditation by the Commission on Colleges in determining the eligibility of educational organizations to participate in federal programs. The Commission reassures the public that the entity is a dependable source on the quality of education provided by educational organization members through compliance with federal regulations. As a component of the review process, educational organizations are obligated to verify compliance with those decisive factors and the Commission is compelled to take into account such compliance when the educational organization is evaluated for initial membership or continued accreditation (COCSACS, 2004).
The educational organization, as components of the peer review process, will present two distinct documents as part of the reaffirmation, the compliance certification and the quality enhancement plan. The compliance certification is submitted 15 months in advance of the educational institutions planned reaffirmation. This document isfulfilled by the educational organization and establishes the extent of compliance with the core requirements and comprehensive standards. The document is then signed by the educational organization’s chief executive officer and the accreditation liaison and confirms the educational organization self-assessment is thorough and honest, and that the information in the document is truthful, precise, and inclusive (COCSACS, 2004; Crouse, 2000).
The educational organization should submit the quality enhancement plan to the Commission at least six weeks prior to an educational organization’s review. This document should be a thorough and concentrated strategy that focuses on enhancing student learning and should include no more than 75 pages of text and no more than 25 pages of supportive documents (COCSACS, 2004).
The off-site review committee is generally comprised of a chair and eight evaluators that meet and review compliance certificates for several educational organizations to establish if each educational organization is in compliance with all core requirements, comprehensive standards, and with federal regulations. The off-site review committee will then prepare a report for each educational organization concerning compliance. The report is then sent to each educational organization’s on-site review committee for final determination concerning compliance. The on-site review committee then performs a concentrated assessment to complete issues of compliance with the core requirements. The on-site review committee then prepares a report noting findings on non-compliance and formulates a proposal to the Commission on Colleges in regard to the educational organization’s accreditation status. This report as well as the education organizations reply to issues of non-compliance will be sent to the Commission for evaluation and action (COCSACS, 2004; Crouse, 2000).
Current Case Involving Accreditation
The failure of accreditation is a serious setback since students at the particular educational organization are then ineligible for federal student aid (Bollage, 2005 a; June, 2002). Universities as well asprospective employers may not acknowledge degrees or course credit from unaccredited educational organizations as valid (Anonymous, 2005). Edward Waters College in Florida lost accreditation and filed suit against the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. A newspaper in Florida revealed that sections of the educational organizations quality enhancement plan were plagiarized from a document created by another educational organization. Hiwassee College lost accreditation for being deficient in financial resources and filed suit against the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (Bollag, 2005 c).
Federal courts issued the reinstatement of accreditation for both schools until legal issues regarding accreditation are resolved. The judges supported the educational organization’s claims of denial of due process and (Bollag, 2005 b). In court, both educational organizations contend that the accrediting agency did not allow an opportunity to reply to accusations before retracting accreditation and consequently denying both educational organizations due process (Bollag, 2005 c). The Southern Association of College and Schools Commission on Higher Education decided to re-establish accreditation for Edward Waters College in return for the college to drop the case (Bollag, 2005 c).
These cases allocate proposals for sanctions not to be heard by an accreditation committee, which is now the case, but by three outside arbitrators. In order to avoid the two previous stated conflicts, both educational organizations could have adhered to compliance guidelines for accreditation, however, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools could have been more prudent in their efforts of due process.
Accreditation presents a measurement of an educational organization’s capability in the realization of the mission, the conformity with the prerequisites of the accrediting association, and the ongoing efforts to improve the quality of student learning, programs and services (COCSACS, 2004; Prince, 2004). Accreditation by the Commission on Colleges indicates that an educational organization encompasses a purpose fitting to higher education and maintains ample resources, programs, and services to achieve and support that purpose. Accreditation specifies that an educational organization uphold specific educational objectives that are uniform with the mission and suitable to the degrees offered, and that the educational organization is successful in accomplishing the acknowledged objectives (COCSACS, 2004).
Anonymous. (March, 2005). Edward Waters College loses accreditation appeal, files lawsuit. Black Issues in Higher Education, 22(3). Retrieved January 5, 2007, from ProQuest database
Bollag, B. (April, 2005a). Another college sues southern accreditor. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 51(30). Retrieved January 2, 2007, from ProQuest database.
Bollag, B. (2005b). Court injunctions against accreditor’s decisions arouse fears about the process. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 51(31). Retrieved January 2, 2007, from ProQuest database.
Bollag, B. (July, 2005c). College’s victory in accreditation lawsuit could spur changes in the process. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 51(43). Retrieved January 2, 2007, from ProQuest database
Commission on Colleges: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (2004). Principles of accreditation: Foundation for quality enhancement. Retrieved January 2, 2007, from http://www.sacscoc.org/principles.asp
Crouse, J. (2000). So, you’re interested in accreditation. Journal of Family and ConsumerSciences, 92(5). Retrieved January 2, 2007, from ProQuest database.
June, A.W. (October, 2002). Morris Brown College faces big debts and an accreditor’s judgement. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 49(8). Retrieved on January 2, 2007, from ProQuest database.
Macdonald, M. (October, 2002). Students sue life over accreditation loss. The Atlanta Journal – Constitution. Retrieved January 4, 2007, from ProQuest database.
Prince, C. (2004). University accreditation and the corporate learning agenda. The Journal of Management Development, 23 (3/4). Retrieved on January 2, 2007, from ProQuest database.
Ratcliff, J.L., Lubinescu, E.S. & Gaffney, M.A. (2001). How accreditation influences assessment. Jossey-Bass.