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Sherman College Seeks SACS Accreditation: Committees Complete Self-Study, Prepare for SACS Team Site Visit

MARCH 5, 2001 - Sherman College has completed another requirement in its pursuit of regional accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), thanks to college-wide participation in an intensive institutional self-study. The self-study is just one of several SACS requirements for the accreditation process. Trustees, alumni, staff, faculty and students recently completed the self-study, submitted a 250-page document to SACS and now look forward to hosting a SACS evaluation team during a site visit in early April.

The self-study engaged all members of the college community in a thorough analysis and examination of every phase of the college’s operation to determine the degree to which the college is meeting its mission and stated objectives. The study is designed to identify strengths and weaknesses of the institution, according to SACS criteria, and to initiate procedures to remedy any deficiencies.

The value of self-study
Completing this rigorous process of self-examination and assessment not only serves as a step toward achieving SACS accreditation, but also has helped the college in its own self-improvement efforts. “Anytime you conduct a self-study, you assess the effectiveness of your institution,” says Leroy G. Moore, D.C., senior vice president for institutional advancement and SACS self-study director. “The study brought to our attention areas in which Sherman College can improve and areas in which we are strong.”

In addition, Moore says, the wide spectrum of campus participation allowed for a better understanding and appreciation of the college’s organizational structure. “By asking virtually all of the college’s faculty and staff and a number of students to serve on SACS self-study committees, those people involved learned a great deal about aspects of the college to which they may not normally be exposed,” he says.

Benefits of accreditation
Though chiropractic colleges are not required to seek accreditation from regional agencies such as SACS, Sherman College has voluntarily sought accreditation because of the benefits SACS accreditation could have for members of the college community.

In addition to affirming that Sherman College has a quality academic program and uncovering ways to improve it, SACS accreditation would allow us to reach out to non-chiropractic colleges and universities in the region and give us a better definition in the academic world outside of chiropractic,” says Interim President Brian J. McAulay, D.C., Ph.D. “SACS accreditation would further legitimize our place in the collegiate community.”

SACS accreditation would also allow Sherman College to interact with other colleges in academic areas of study - including research - and would also facilitate library interaction and inter-library loan programs with other SACS-accredited schools.

SACS accreditation would also give Sherman College greater ease and a more seamless transition in developing Three Plus One programs with area undergraduate colleges. Three Plus One programs allow students to complete three years of prerequisites at an undergraduate institution, then transfer to Sherman College. Following their first year of study at Sherman College, students are awarded a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies or biology from the undergraduate college. These Three Plus One programs not only build relationships with other colleges but help make chiropractic more available as an attractive career to more undergraduate students.

A further benefit of SACS accreditation is that it would provide excellent networking and educational opportunities for college staff, McAulay says. “With SACS accreditation, our staff would be able to attend the annual SACS conferences and build powerful relationships with their counterparts at other SACS-accredited colleges,” he says.

Nuts and bolts

While completing the self-study has been extremely demanding and intensive, strong leadership and solid organization simplified the process. The college’s Administrative Council mandated the appointment of a director, a steering committee chair, an editor and a steering committee to organize and direct the self-study. The steering committee then established the following principal committees to accomplish the objectives of the self-study: institutional effectiveness, educational support services, organization and administration, student development services, educational program, faculty and financial and physical resources.

Each principal committee contained six or seven representatives from the faculty, alumni, staff and students. The steering committee assigned each principal committee a list of “must statements,” or college responsibilities, and principal committee members were responsible for breaking their area of responsibility into pieces and examining each part in close detail. Principal committees assessed whether the college is in compliance with each of the assigned criteria, documented such compliance or made recommendations accordingly.

Principal committee members also designed and compiled surveys to determine the college’s effectiveness in areas for which documentation alone was insufficient - for example, surveys questioned students about their satisfaction with the financial aid department; or they questioned alumni about the college’s success in upholding its institutional mission.

It was very important to include all members of the college community on these principal committees,” says Moore. “Gaining regional accreditation with SACS is a college-wide effort, and it is essential that diverse viewpoints be expressed. If we only allowed for administrative participation, we might have missed valuable points in the self-study. Being part of a principal committee was a massive task, but the people involved gained a great opportunity to learn more about our college and its strengths.”

What happens next
Steering committee members are now busy building a ”document library” - a paper trail containing all bits of evidence that were quoted or referred to in the self-study - in preparation for the SACS team visit in April. The SACS team will determine if the college is in compliance with SACS criteria for accreditation. During this thorough, three-day visit, representatives from other SACS-accredited institutions will review Sherman College files in the document library and interview college staff, faculty and students.

Sherman College officials will have an opportunity to respond to any recommendations or suggestions made by the visiting team in a written report. Then SACS visiting team members will submit a written report of their evaluation to the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The Commission will then decide at its June meeting whether to grant accreditation.

Obviously, college officials hope to be granted SACS accreditation - but regardless of the outcome, McAulay says it has been a worthwhile process. “We gave ourselves a hard look and were able to recognize many of our strengths and identify areas where we can improve,” he says. “The self-study took a lot of hard work, but the whole college was involved, and it was a very educational experience for everyone who participated.”

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