Accreditation changes could cause headaches in the state of Florida

At the Florida Board of Governors meeting last Tuesday, Board Member Alan Levine said he believes Governor Ron DeSantis will move forward with signing SB 7044, formally changing the policy in public post-secondary institutions that includes Florida’s institutional accreditation standards.

Alan Levine, member of the Florida Board of Governors.As of September 1, 2022, institutions will be prohibited from being accredited by the same accrediting institution from a previous cycle. This means that, approximately every five years, institutions must begin the process of gathering the information necessary for new accreditors and applying.

The Board of Governors promises to include leaders from Florida’s public institutions in the conversations. They aim to have a more thorough implementation plan by August.

Dr. Christy England, vice chancellor of the State University System of Florida, said the board has already begun the process of connecting with identifying accrediting agencies for their institutions and considering the pros and cons of having more from an accrediting body in the state. .

Traditionally, institutions in Florida are generally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). SACSCOC accreditation covers the southern United States and is one of six regional accreditors. SACSCOC accredits four-year, two-year research institutions, and community and technical colleges.

Bill SB 7044 could change the role SACSCOC plays in Florida, and researchers are concerned that the cost and labor of reaccreditation could potentially hurt institutions with fewer resources.

SACSCOC’s authority was questioned in Florida after it sent letters to the University of Florida (UF) and Florida State University (FSU). The letters, sent under the SACSCOC protocol, contained information published in the media regarding incidents of potential interference with academic freedom and a potential example of undue influence in the search for the president of the FSU.

“When you’re an accreditation body, you have to be careful what you say. It could damage an institution,” Levine said at the meeting, who added that staff, faculty, students and the board of governors have worked for decades to make Florida universities among the best in the country.

“It really is a good time to ask the question, what is the right partner organization to work with?” Levine asked.

Dr. Belle Wheelan, President of SACSCOC.Dr. Belle Wheelan, President of SACSCOC.SACSCOC President Dr. Belle S. Wheelan said the letters are produced to notify institutions of allegations in the media, potential threats to their accreditation status, so that institutions can gather information and evidence. . She said the letters don’t work adversarially.

“Nobody’s going after Florida,” Wheelan said. “We don’t want our institutions to be non-compliant. This jeopardizes their reputation, potential donations and financial aid. We try to keep them out of trouble,” she added.

The reaccreditation process with different institutions “is going to cost the institution time and money,” Wheelan said. “Logistically, it will be very difficult for the institutions. It’s like getting a divorce while you’re engaged and planning a wedding.

A 2015 Vanderbilt University study found that in total, colleges and universities spend about $27 billion each year to comply with federal requirements. Vanderbilt is also accredited by SACSCOC.

Dr. Travis C. Smith, assistant clinical professor and coordinator of the Student Personnel in Higher Education program at UF, said it takes a long time to put together a package that meets the requirements of the process. accreditation.

“Right now, with SACSCOC, we understand what they are doing and have a good grasp of what they are looking for and what their goals are. If we risk each cycle, my program has the potential to be constantly evolving. said Smith. “Change is good, but without stability there could be collapse. We should always look at accreditation processes that create inequities, and no one is above the approach. However, we should not declare war on one in particular.

In particular, Smith is concerned about the weight the new policy places on institutions that are not fairly funded, such as Florida’s only public Historically Black College and University (HBCU), Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU). FAMU representatives declined to comment on the legislation until it was officially signed into law by Governor DeSantis.

Florida Memorial University President Dr. Jaffus Hardrick is keeping a close eye on the new legislation. Florida Memorial is a private HBCU institution and is not yet subject to the new policy.

“As we know, in a lot of these types of situations, somebody will want to apply it across the board,” Hardrick said. “When you start talking about accreditation and agency processes every five years, it’s going to complicate things. And that’s an expensive proposition.

“It would have been beneficial if there had been greater conversations between the legislators who pushed this bill with the higher education administration to fully understand the implications,” Hardrick said. “It will make a big difference to some of our HBCUs in the state, as well as predominantly white institutions and Hispanic-serving institutions.”

Hardrick added that he fears the chaos that could be produced by this new requirement will ultimately hurt the growth and success of Florida colleges and universities.

“Just having to hire another agency to come in and assess all of your academic records, your courses, your faculty and what the expectations are for each of your degree programs, that’s not something that can happen. overnight,” Hardrick said. “It’s going to, at some point, put us in a position where people start to question the integrity of our curriculum. Although we have top-notch institutions, it will give a clear advantage to other institutions because they will not have to go through this.

Liann Herder can be contacted at [email protected]

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