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Clayton State prepares for five-year SACS update

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Officials at Clayton State University are going to be spending the next year preparing a progress report for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the university's president announced this week.

Clayton State's accreditation was reaffirmed by SACS' Commission on Colleges in 2004, and will not be up for renewal again until 2014. During the 10-year accreditation period, however, an institution is required to submit a five-year update report to the commission, to let SACS know how the school is doing.

Belle Wheelan, president of the Commission on Colleges, said the five-year report requirement was established a few years ago after officials from the U.S. Department of Education requested a way to make sure colleges are providing a quality education in the period between re-affirmation visits.

"It's a mini compliance report, just to touch base with the school," said Wheelan. "If there are any problems, they can be identified in the five-year report and addressed early on, so they won't create headaches for administrators when its time to get the accreditation reaffirmed."

Clayton State will have to deliver its five-year report to SACS officials in 2009. On Thursday, university President Thomas Harden announced the establishment of a team of Clayton State administrators and professors, led by chemistry professor Jim Braun, who will work with the associate provost in compiling the report. Harden also said he did not foresee any problems with the report.

"Clayton State University has never had an issue with its SACS accreditation," he said.

Much like public school systems, accredited colleges and universities can be put on probation, or lose accreditation if certain standards are not met. The Commission on College's comprehensive accreditation standards are broken down into four areas, including, institutional mission, governance and effectiveness; programs; resources; and "institutional responsibility for commission policies."

During the re-affirmation process, colleges and universities also have to develop a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), which explains a detailed action plan for addressing specific issues related to improving education at the institution. The QEP guides the school through the next decade, and Wheelan said colleges should begin working on a new plan no later than two years after the five-year report is submitted.

The five-year report serves as the commission's way of making sure the plan is working. The report includes academic assessments and data going back to the date of reaffirmation.

The university is fighting some confusion people have about accreditation since Clayton County's public school system lost its SACS accreditation earlier this month. However, there are two branches of SACS, so the organization can deal with different levels of education.

Clayton State is accredited by the Commission on Colleges, while the public school system falls under the jurisdiction of another branch, the Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (CASI). "We do the same thing, except they ensure quality in K-12 education, while we ensure quality at the higher education level," said Wheelan.

The Commission on Colleges was established in 1912, and accredits 800 colleges and universities across the Southeast, including nearly 100 institutions in Georgia. Clayton State has been accredited by the commission since 1971, two years after the school opened its doors, according to the commission's web site.

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On the net:

Commission on Colleges: www.sacscoc.org