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Wheelan breaks down college accreditation process at Rooster Booster

Wheelan breaks down college accreditation process at Rooster Booster

The Messenger-Inquirer

Karah Wilson
September 8, 2023
At the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Rooster Booster Breakfast on Thursday, Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), talked to guests about accreditation for post-secondary institutions.
”Accreditation is a comprehensive periodic review of everything an institution does,” she said. “We focus on institution-wide goals and look at who they say they are and how they will get there.”
Wheelan said there are two types of accrediting agencies — institutional and programmatic.
The national and regional accreditors were combined by the previous administration and are now referred to as institutional accreditors, Wheelan said.
”National accreditors have no geographic boundaries and can accredit institutions anywhere in the country, but all of the members have the same missions,” she said. “The regional accreditors are geographically bound, but the institutions have different missions.”
Wheelan said the change has allowed institutions to choose the group they want to join to be accredited.
”All of us are trying to ascertain the quality of what’s being offered at the institution,” she said.
There are three purposes of accreditation, Wheelan said.
”It’s a quality improvement process,” she said. “We’re not there to close anyone down, though unfortunately we have had to do that, but we’re there to make institutions stronger.”
Wheelan said SACSCOC wants the general public to feel good about spending money and sending family members to institutions.
”There is a set of standards the institution has to demonstrate compliance to show it is of quality,” she said.
If an institution is accredited, that allows access to federal dollars and federal financial aid, Wheelan said.
”We have about 1,000 institutions in this country that are not accredited by anybody but are open for business,” she said. “The challenge with that is a lot of their students have difficulty getting their credits transferred because we don’t know about the quality of the institution.”
SACSCOC spans from Texas to Virginia and has 781 member institutions in the region, making it the second largest behind north central.
”The southern region educates more students,” Wheelan said. “We have more than two million that our institutions educate across the southern region.”
There is one set of standards for all 781 members in SACSCOC.
”We use those standards against the mission and purpose of that particular institution,” Wheelan said. “Brescia University is evaluated differently from Owensboro Community & Technical College because the missions and purposes are different, but the same standards apply.”
Wheelan said there are several ways communities can offer support to local higher education institutions to maintain accreditation.
”Provide lectures to their students,” she said. “Those of you in business are trying to recruit students into your business but they have no clue what it is you do sometimes.”
Offering internships for students and faculty, serving on advisory boards and making donations are other ways to show support, Wheelan said.
”In 1987, I moved to Virginia and I worked 18 years, and the state was paying 70% of the cost of every student who went to school, and now it is 3%,” she said. “Every state has gone through the same thing … colleges have had to raise tuition or ask for money. Students cannot afford to go to college.”
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National Association of Schools of Art and Design