What is the SACS Reaffirmation of Accreditation Project?

Accreditation: Who, Why, and When?

What is the SACS Reaffirmation of Accreditation Project?

In the United States, no national agency or board accredits colleges and universities or mandates curriculum. (Of course, many federal and state laws include requirements relating to colleges and universities.) Rather, the responsibility for accreditation of higher education institutions lies with regional associations that are recognized as having the quality, expertise, and experience to exercise accreditation authority.

The Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Universities (COC) is the recognized regional accrediting authority for higher education institutions in eleven southern states (and Latin America) that award any of the following: associate degree, baccalaureate, master’s, or doctoral degrees. The U.S. Department of Education recognizes the COC as a “reliable authority as to the quality of postsecondary education” within the meaning of the Higher Education Act of 1965. Thus, accreditation by SACS COC conveys a powerful message that the University meets the standards and processes for quality recognized by its peers, academic experts, and the federal government.

At all times, an institutions accredited by SACS COC must adhere to ongoing COC processes and standards. In addition, at certain major intervals, an institution undergoes a full accreditation evaluation. SMU was reaccredited by SACS COC in 1990-91. The next major interval for evaluation of accreditation is 2010-2011. Thus, SMU will seek reaffirmation of accreditation in 2010-2011.
What Does Reaffirmation Entail?

Reaffirmation is not the result of following a checklist. Nor does reaffirmation require a college or university to fit a single mold or template for its mission, organization, and operations. Rather, reaffirmation is more like a detailed self-study, followed by a dialogue about and review of the self study by peers in higher education.

The self-study is guided by principles and standards set out by SACS COC. These standards do not tell a university what its mission should be. Rather, the standards expect the university to define and articulate its own mission appropriate in the context of higher education. The standards also require the university to examine how, and how well, the university is carrying out this mission. Does the university have a balanced governance structure that promotes institutional integrity, autonomy, and a balance of stability and flexibility? Does the university have degree programs appropriate to its mission, with rationales and outcomes appropriate to the field of study? Does the university articulate and continue examining the learning outcomes it expects, and how effectively it achieves those outcomes? Does the university have support services that promote development of the student?

SMU will be examining these and other questions as it undergoes the process of seeking reaffirmation of accreditation. All schools, departments, and units of the university will be involved. Thus, although the reaffirmation process entails considerable time and energy, we will benefit from the additional institutional knowledge and the ideas for improvement that this detailed self-examination will generate.