By Curt Yeomans
Clayton State University Spokesman John Shiffert has handled phone calls and e-mails over the last two weeks from several of the university's students, faculty, staff, parents, and prospective students, asking one thing: "Has the university lost its accreditation?"
The answer is an emphatic, "NO!" explains Shiffert.
"Every time the school system has been in the news because of its accreditation over the last five years, we get phone calls," said Shiffert. "Clayton County schools and Clayton State University ... They do sound the same, and my feeling is that people may hear a sound byte, or they don't read the newspaper articles too closely, and they get confused."
The news that the K-12, Clayton County School System lost its accreditation last week has apparently caused some confusion, resulting in concerns among members of the university community that the college is in trouble with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). It is not.
Joseph Echols, an admissions counselor for the university, said high school students from outside the metro Atlanta area have been inquiring if the school is in trouble with SACS.
Five years ago, when Clayton schools were in the news because of accreditation issues, Shiffert said his office took several calls from people who thought the university, then called Clayton College and State University, was being put on probation by SACS. The university's name has changed slightly since then, but the word "Clayton" still causes some confusion for a few people.
Two reasons for the confusion is the university and the school system are in Clayton County, and both are accredited by SACS. However, SACS is just an overall organization with two branches. The SACS Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI) deals with K-12 public schools, and school systems like Clayton County Public Schools.
SACS also has another branch, the Commission on Colleges, which deals with the accreditation of more than 700 public and private colleges and universities, such as Clayton State University, across 11 states.
The plight of the Clayton County Public School System has captured national headlines with the Associated Press, National Public Radio, "Education Week" and the New York Times.
"The biggest confusion is among students who are still in high school," Echols said. "We get asked a lot of questions about our accreditation [at college fairs] because of what is going on. In a respectful manner, we explain to these students that it is the public school system which lost its accreditation, not the university."
Despite the confusion, Shiffert and Echols said the concern over accreditation hasn't turned students off to the idea of attending Clayton State. It continues to draw out-of-state students.
"I know there was some confusion at first, because people didn't understand what was going on, but now that everything has been explained, everyone is pretty relieved," said Marcus Dickerson, a junior from New York City.