12/21/10 — MOC in midst of reaffirming accreditation

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MOC in midst of reaffirming accreditation

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on December 21, 2010 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Mount Olive College officials are in the long process of reaffirming the school's accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Every institution listed by the association, also known as SACS, must undergo accreditation every 10 years. Mount Olive College is due for its 10-year review, and the administration, faculty and staff have spent months participating in the lengthy process.

Accreditation through any of a number of regional associations is important because it demonstrates that each member school is capable of providing the necessary facilities and quality programs for its students, college President Dr. Philip Kerstetter said.

"We feel really good about the quality of our faculty and staff, we feel good about the programs," he said.

The SACS Commission on Colleges accredits schools in 11 states across the southeast, including more than 130 colleges and universities in North Carolina alone.

The process is largely driven by the SACS committee, which might speak with any faculty member, department chairperson or other employee as the committee members probe how the school operates. The committee looks at general education, the quality of the major programs, what kind of programs are offered, how they are staffed and the quality of people associated with the programs. Department chairs are very involved in this part of the process, Kerstetter said.

The SACS committee also looks at how the college is governed, the role of the Board of Trustees, the administrators and organization process, programs and services provided for students, the quality of buildings and facilities and more.

"They're coming back to one key issue, and that is, what is your institutional mission, and do you have the wherewithal to achieve it?" Kerstetter said. "This is what you say that you're all about, and we are making a judgment call about whether you're able to do what you say that you're all about."

This kind of external review keeps schools on an equal footing, especially in terms of allowing students to transfer between accredited institutions and know that their transferred credit hours will be counted as valid. Graduate schools also look for students who have earned degrees from accredited schools, Kerstetter said. And more than that, accreditation is an "external affirmation of what we're doing and how we're doing it," he said.

The multi-stage process involves many comprehensive standards and core requirements, with the goal of making certain that the school meets all of them, and addressing any that fall short of meeting the expectations.

"There are a boatload of these that range from governance of the college, quality of the physical plant, fiscal and physical resources -- they look at the whole gamut of the operations of the college," Kerstetter explained.

The college must demonstrate and document that the school meets the SACS expectations. College officials first submitted an initial report, reviewed by an off-campus committee, documenting how the college meets the requirements. Committee members can also ask follow-up questions or point out weaknesses. An on-site team then visits the campus, investigating the core requirements, interviewing people on campus and examining the school's quality enhancement plan.

Ultimately the committee creates a report, allows the college time to respond to the report and then the accreditation package is reviewed by the SACS board of trustees.

Mount Olive College has already undergone the off-site and on-site investigations and received the report from the on-site group. The college is preparing the response, Kerstetter said.

The final report is due March 2 of next year, and will likely go before the SACS trustees in June.

"We're excited about Mount Olive College. I believe in the accreditation process. I think it's absolutely critical to have external people look at you on a regular basis and give you feedback," Kerstetter said.

The college is looking more diligently at certain areas of operations, most notably, the way the school handles money. That's a common move for colleges and universities, particularly given current economic conditions, Kerstetter said.

"We're facing issues that virtually every other college and university is facing right now, and that's finances," he said.

The school's administration is ensuring that the decisions made with college funds are fiscally responsible. It's important that the administration remain good stewards of money given in support of the college, and ensuring the college's continued fiscal stability is a major goal, the president said.

Mount Olive College was initially accredited through SACS in 1960 and was last accredited in 2001. Although the accreditation is "active" for 10 years, institutions of higher learning may soon have to undergo accreditation check-ups, in some form, more often than that.

"I wouldn't be at all surprised to see that eventually change," Kerstetter said.