The University of Texas at Austin is accredited by the Commission on Colleges (COC) of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the regional accrediting organization for eleven states in the southeastern United States, including Texas. Reaffirmation of accreditation is on a ten-year schedule, and the University was last reaccredited in 1998 Thus, the University is planning for a spring 2008 reaccreditation visit with submittal of our Certification of Compliance document in September 2007 and our Quality Enhancement Plan later that year.

SACS has changed its accreditation criteria and process since our last review. For those involved in the last accreditation, you will be pleased to know that the new process is much less prescriptive and the list of requirements and standards much shorter and far more broadly stated than the former "must" statements. Also, the requirements for demonstrating compliance are far more flexible than was the case in the former process, and the University has a greater responsibility to demonstrate that it is in compliance. This does not necessarily mean that it will take any less effort, but the University, particularly the undergraduate and graduate academic programs, will benefit long-term more from the new process than the old.

The University’s leadership team will be made up of President William Powers, Jr., Provost Steven Leslie, and SACS Accreditation Liaison, Neal Armstrong, Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs and Institutional Accreditation. Representatives from across campus will be selected to serve on committees dealing with institutional and academic program review and accreditation and the Quality Enhancement Plan. Dr. Armstrong, as SACS Accreditation Liaison, will have a major role in leading the review process.

While some faculty will be asked to serve on the committees, their primary role has been and will continue to be in program assessment in accordance with the February 23, 2000 policy from former Provost Ekland-Olson to the deans, namely:

The faculty in all departments will identify assessment outcomes for their academic programs and, based on these criteria, carry out the systematic review of their academic programs on a regular basis, in five to six year intervals. Programs will be revised consistent with this review and assessment. This systematic review and assessment will be carried out by the appropriate curriculum committee and governance structure in each department. It will include outcomes assessments based on a mixture of feedback from current students, alumni, prospective employers, accreditation committees, visiting committees and scholars, and advisory councils as deemed appropriate. On the basis of these assessments, as well as their own professional sense of their disciplines, the faculty will determine how well programs meet the evolving scholarly demands of their disciplines and the shifting nature of the marketplace students will enter. Program changes will be made as appropriate. The University will monitor this systematic departmental review and assessment through the Compact and Performance Based Instructional System (PBIS) procedures.
(Posted at http://www.utexas.edu/provost/planning/assessment/program/.)

Students have an important role in outcomes-based assessment, as they along with faculty and others, are academic program stakeholders. They are involved in the assessment process as well as in the setting of program educational objectives and program learning outcomes.

The final determination of reaffirmation will be announced at the SACS annual meeting in December 2008.

SACS guidance documents state that an accredited institution engages in constant and continual self-assessment. The self-assessment is goal oriented, and outcome based. This means that the institution has identified specific goals and established measures (outcomes) by which achievement of the goals may be assessed. Reaffirmation requires that the university prepare two documents, a Certification of Compliance and a Quality Enhancement Plan.

The Certification of Compliance will document the University’s compliance with the SACS Core Requirements, Comprehensive Standards, and Federal Mandates. Compliance with the Core Requirements is compulsory, and compliance with the Federal Mandates is a prerequisite to qualify for federal programs such as the Guaranteed Student Loan Program. Non-compliance or partial compliance with a Comprehensive Standard requires a statement of how the institution or unit plans to come into full compliance.

Core Requirement 12 calls for the University to prepare a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). The QEP is to be focused on improving some aspect of the educational component of the institution that enhances the quality of student learning. It will represent a commitment on the part of the University to identify an area for improvement, to develop a plan to meet specific, measurable goals, and to engage in ongoing assessment of progress toward completion of the plan. The University must submit an impact report five years following the initiation of the QEP in which it demonstrates with measurable results the impact of the QEP on student learning, as defined in the plan.

The QEP will be broad-based, impacting as many units of the University as possible, including both academic and support components. Efforts will be made to engage as many stakeholder groups as possible in the selection of the plan focus and its implementation. The first task will be to devise a plan for soliciting input from such groups as students, faculty, administration, staff, alumni, and other interested individuals and groups. The QEP focus may be a currently identified planning initiative, or it may be a new emphasis that has not previously been identified. Whatever focus is finally selected, it should be capable of successful implementation within the limits of the disposable resources of the University.


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