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College admission problems ahead for Clayton pupils

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

U.S. Congressman David Scott (D-Ga.) is pleading with college admissions counselors everywhere to overlook the Clayton County school system's recent accreditation loss during acceptance considerations for graduating seniors.

Scott was alerted to a hurdle facing Clayton seniors from the county's eight high schools when one student encountered a problem trying to enroll at Scott's alma mater, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU).

Scott met with FAMU officials at his office in Washington D.C., on Wednesday, and learned the Board of Governors of the State University System of Florida normally requires that "... a high school diploma from a Florida public or regionally accredited high school, or its equivalent, shall be required for admission to a state university."

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) is one of six regional accrediting agencies in the U.S. SACS revoked Clayton County's accreditation on Sept. 1, after the district met only one out of nine mandates for improvement.

Scott wrote an op-ed piece for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officials, pleading with admissions officials across the nation to not deny admission to Clayton County graduates because of the accreditation loss. The AACRAO ran it in its e-mail newsletter for its more than 10,000 members on Thursday.

"Let me be clear: The loss of accreditation was not due to curricular deficiencies within the school system, but by the actions of members of the Clayton County Board of Education over the past several years," Scott said in his op-ed piece. "Plagued by ethics violations, micromanagement and squabbling, the school board was often composed of individuals who placed their interests ahead of the students and families they represented as elected officials."

While public colleges and universities in Florida are allowed to set many of their own admissions requirements, the Board of Governors of the State University System of Florida also sets minimum guidelines for admission to the system's 11 universities and colleges.

Florida's stance on accredited diplomas stands in sharp contrast to the University System of Georgia's recent announcements that the accreditation loss will not prevent a Clayton County graduate from attending a public college in his or her home state as long as the student meets the academic requirements for admission.

As it stands, however, a graduate of Clayton County schools can become a Bulldog, but not a Gator, if the school system does not regain its accreditation by May 2009. The school system has until Sept. 1, 2009, to get the accreditation retroactively re-instated as if the loss never occurred.

Other states have varying requirements for admission when it comes to accredited high schools. The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL), which governs eight public universities in Mississippi, will not exclude Clayton County students, but it will require students to take extra steps to gain admission to a state public college.

"Applicants under age 21 who have not graduated from a regionally accredited high school must submit qualifying scores on the General Education Development Test (GED), or be home-schooled," IHL policy states.

Schools under the control of the Tennessee board of Regents; the University of Alabama system, and the University of South Carolina system require proof of graduation, or a GED.

Corrective Superintendent John Thompson and members of the school board have declared their intentions to get the accreditation back before the end of the school year, so the seniors will not be affected.

Thompson and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) President Mark Elgart will appear together before the board on Monday to present a plan to get the accreditation back. The plan would create a framework where the school system would work on meeting one mandate at a time, and SACS officials would check off each mandate as it is met.

Elgart has repeatedly said the school system is capable of meeting all of the mandates -- If district leaders and board members have the will to get it done.

"I think the kids who are going to be really hurt by this are the ones seeking early admission to some public and private institutions which may refuse to admit them because of the accreditation loss," said Michael Andel, a spokesman for Congressman Scott.