Thursday, December 10, 2009

SACS 2009

The annual Commission on Colleges meeting was in Atlanta this year, and I drove down from Charlotte with a colleague under blue skies. Drove back in the rain. In between, the days and nights were packed. I had optimistically taken along one book on higher ed, one text on complexity theory, two sci-fi novels, and a briefing book of articles on college enrollment (is there a word for fear of being stuck somewhere without something to read?) I got through a total of about six pages, I think.

The sessions were mostly good, and the early (as in 7:30am) round tables were even better. It's an open secret that the round table discussions can be the best part of the conference. I tried to find sessions on the SACS five year report, which is a new requirement for reporting mid-cycle. Here are some of the more interesting bits from my notes:
  • You can change the QEP mid-stream. Radical change, like revising the goals isn't recommended, but it is accepted that institutions change, and plans don't always work as intended. Liberty University gave a presentation on this.
  • After the five year report, the QEP is no longer relevant to accreditation. Some projects may be over after five years. Others are property of the institution, to do as it pleases. Some will become institutionalized, others quietly dropped. Basically, after the report, it's time to start thinking about the next one.
  • For the pilot institutions--the first to come under the Principles of Accreditation--no one flunked the impact report on the QEP except for institutions who simply didn't execute it at all. On the other hand, several sections of the limited compliance certification that goes with the report were problematic, including documenting policy for handling student complaints and properly addressing distance learning programs.
  • Some institutions have prepared drafts of the impact report and are willing to share. For example, University of West Florida has a wealth of public documents about their QEP here.
  • On the SACS website, under Institutional Resources, there are the official documents about the report. The direct page is here, which includes report instructions and timeline.
  • SACS voted to change the rules to make it easier to pass the QEP (section 12 of the Principles). This is a technical change that allows recommendations to be made about the QEP proposal during the decennial reaffirmation process without triggering a full-fledged punitive sanction. This doesn't have anything to do with the five-year report, but signals that SACS is being reasonable about the requirements.
  • The five year report is encouraged to be electronic (CD or website, but don't do a website), but should be self-contained. We are not supposed to submit in both paper and electronically, unlike my experience with the compliance certification, where I learned at the last minute that they wanted both (in addition to renumbering all the sections). Any electronic report should be user friendly. I'd like to underline that. The typical higher ed admin is NOT tech-savvy. Use low-tech solutions. I still like paper, based on my experiences with review committees, and don't see any advantage to risking electronic submissions. We were advised that whatever we present should not depend on links to the main university site--the report has to be self-contained, even if electronic.
There's much more from the conference, which I'll get to later. Let me sign off with some proof of my assertion that SACS attendees aren't much into technology. I used one of the commons computers at the conference to browse to Twitter to see what the backchannel chatter was. Here's all that's there:
One lousy post. Compare that to #educause...

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