Frequently Asked Questions
What is SACS?
SACS stands for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which is the regional accrediting body for educational institutions within Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Latin America. The Commission on Colleges (COC) is the division of SACS that oversees accreditation of higher education within the region. (For more information, see www.sacscoc.org.)
What is accreditation?
Accreditation is intended to assure constituents and the public of the quality and integrity of higher education institutions and programs, and to help those institutions and programs improve. These outcomes are achieved through rigorous internal and external review processes during which the institution is evaluated against a common set of standards. The resulting awarding or reaffirmation of accreditation serves to assure the public that the institution maintains high standards, operates with integrity, and consistently strives to improve the quality and effectiveness of all of its programs and services.
Accreditation by the Commission on Colleges signifies that the institution has a mission appropriate to higher education, has resources, programs and services sufficient to accomplish and sustain that mission, maintains clearly specified educational objectives that are consistent with its mission and appropriate to the degrees it offers, and is successful in achieving its stated objectives. (Principles of Accreditation, p. 1). Among other benefits, the renewal of SACS accreditation enables Sweet Briar to maintain eligibility for student financial aid through the U.S. Department of Education.
The SACS requirements are called the Principles of Accreditation: Foundations for Quality Enhancement. They are a list of 73 principles, requirements and standards that the College needs to meet in order to be in full compliance with SACS and receive reaffirmation of accreditation. To gain or maintain accreditation with the Commission on Colleges, an institution must comply with the standards contained in the Principles of Accreditation: Foundations for Quality Enhancement and with the policies and procedures of the Commission on Colleges.
What is the process?
While the reaffirmation process is ongoing, approximately six months prior to the scheduled reaffirmation visit an institution must submit a Compliance Certification document that demonstrates its judgment of the extent of its compliance with each of the Core Requirements, Comprehensive Standards and Federal Regulations as presented in the Principles. The Compliance Certification document is reviewed by an Off-Site Review committee which advises the on-site review committee by making observations about the information the institution provides and by determining the institution’s initial compliance with standards. Sweet Briar’s Compliance Certification was submitted to the Commission in September and the off-site review occurred in November. The College has responded to requests for further documentation in a Focused Report, which was submitted to the Commission the first week of February.
The concept of quality enhancement is at the heart of the Commission's philosophy of accreditation. Each institution seeking reaffirmation of Accreditation is required to develop a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). Engaging the wider academic community and addressing one or more issues that contribute to institutional improvement, the plan should be focused, succinct and limited in length. The QEP describes a carefully designed and focused course of action that addresses a well-defined topic or issue(s) related to enhancing student learning. The Sweet Briar College y:1 program is designed to accelerate first-year students’ intellectual and academic engagement, provide opportunities for first-year students to improve their critical thinking and digital literacy skills, and increase the persistence of first-year students. As a result of participating in the y:1 program, first-year students will demonstrate increased levels of participation in activities associated with active and collaborative learning, demonstrate increased levels of critical thinking and digital literacy skills, and be more successful in persisting to their second year of college.
The Quality Enhancement Plan calls for an initial two-year pilot phase of the program. In the fall of 2011, the y:1 program will be piloted with four groups of 15 first-year students. The program incorporates a full year of activities including a common reading experience, related orientation programming, first-year seminars, and subsequent enrollment in a writing-intensive English course. Students will also work with digital information and media through activities embedded throughout the program.
At the culmination of Off-Site Review, Focused Report and QEP development processes, the Commission on Colleges sends an on-site committee of professional peers to the campus to assess the educational strengths and weaknesses of the institution. The written report of the committee helps the institution improve its programs, refine its QEP, and also provides the basis on which the Commission decides to grant, continue, reaffirm, or withdraw accreditation. Sweet Briar’s On-Site Visit was March 1-3, 2011.
During a typical three-day visit, committee members examine data and conduct interviews in order to evaluate the soundness of the QEP and ascertain whether the institution is in compliance with the Principles. The committee offers written advice to the institution, develops a consensus on its findings and completes a draft report. Finally, the committee presents an oral summary in an exit report to the chief executive officer and invited institutional officials on the last day of the visit.
The departure of the committee from campus does not mark the end of the reaffirmation process. The visiting committee report and the response of the institution to the findings of the committee are reviewed by the Committee on Compliance and Reports, a standing committee of the Commission. The Committee on Compliance and Reports recommends action on reaffirmation to the Executive Council of the Commission. The Executive Council in turn recommends action to the Commission on Colleges, which makes the final decision. These decisions are announced to the College Delegate Assembly during its annual business session. An announcement pertaining to Sweet Briar’s reaffirmation took place at the Commission’s annual business meeting on Dec. 6, 2011.
The Commission on Colleges (COC) can reaffirm an institution's accreditation with or without requiring additional follow-up reports. It can grant reaffirmation but place an institution on notice for a maximum of one year or defer reaffirmation until the next COC meeting while awaiting compliance reports. The COC can deny reaffirmation and place a college on either Warning or Probation for up to two years. Lastly, the COC can deny an institution reaffirmation and remove it from membership in the Commission on Colleges. The status of an institution's accreditation becomes public knowledge when accreditation actions are read in open session at the College Delegate Assembly and published in the Proceedings of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
For more information about Sweet Briar’s reaffirmation process, contact Christy Cole, SACS Liaison, Director of Institutional Research, ext. 6530 or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have questions concerning the on-site evaluation team visit, please contact Karen Summers, Executive Assistant, Office of the President, ext. 6230 or email@example.com. If you have questions about the y:1 program, please contact Professor John Gregory Brown, y:1 Program Director, Julia Jackson Nichols Professor of English, ext. 6434 or firstname.lastname@example.org.