What is SACS and why is accreditation important?
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (also known as SACS or SACS-COC) is the regional body for the accreditation of degree-granting higher education institutions in the Southern states. It serves as the common source for shared values and practices among the diverse institutions in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Latin America and other international sites approved by the Commission that award associate, baccalaureate, master’s, or doctoral degrees.
To gain or maintain accreditation with the Commission on Colleges, an institution must comply with the standards contained in the Principles of Accreditation and with the policies and procedures of the Commission on Colleges. The Commission on Colleges applies the requirements of its Principles to all applicant, candidate, and member institutions, regardless of type of institution (public, private for-profit, private not-for-profit).
The SACS accreditation process helps us set and maintain high academic standards, foster public confidence in our academic value, and make us eligible for certain grants and federal aid programs.
What is a quality enhancement plan (QEP) and why does SACS require it?
Each institution applying for accreditation or renewal of accreditation (reaffirmation) is required to develop a quality enhancement plan (QEP). The QEP describes a carefully designed and focused course of action that addresses a well-defined topic or issue(s) that was selected after a close examination of data about the institution and the student experience.
Developing a QEP as part of the reaffirmation process is an opportunity for our campus to enhance our overall institutional quality by proposing a project that we believe will improve student learning and/or the learning environment and accomplish the mission of UofL. This QEP development process is designed to help us move as an institution into a future characterized by the development and/or modification of creative, engaging and meaningful learning experiences for students.
What are the criteria SACS has provided that guides our QEP process?
SACS reviewers expect that in developing our QEP, we are engaging the campus community and addressing one or more issues that contribute to institutional improvement focused on student learning.
They expect the plan to be focused, succinct, and limited in scope in order to allow the institution to implement, assess and complete an Impact Report on the project within 5 years. SACS does not expect the QEP to touch the life of every student at UofL. They expect us to create a project that will enhance learning for a meaningful number of students and to explain why the size of our chosen QEP population is “meaningful” or significant, given the context of our institution and our topic.
Who are the people at UofL proposing and implementing our QEP? What is their operating timeline?
The provost established a QEP Development Committee in late 2014 in order to guide the creation of our new QEP and to engage individuals and groups across campus in the development process.
The co-chairs of the QEP Development Committee are Patty Payette, executive director of Ideas to Action and senior associate director, Delphi Center for Teaching and Learning; and Riaan van Zyl, associate dean for research in the Kent School of Social Work.
The members of the QEP Development Committee, and which units or programs they represent, are here [PDF].
All members of the UofL community are welcome to review the QEP proposal in progress and send feedback to the QEP Committee through our landing page.
Faculty, staff or students who are interested in getting involved in developing or implementing the QEP can indicate interest by sending an email to QEP2017@louisville.edu
Our QEP proposal will be provided to SACS at a future date; the official review of the QEP by SACS has been delayed due to our institution's probationary status with SACS. Meanwhile, we will conduct a "soft pilot" of our new QEP seminar in spring 2018.
What is the target population of students to be served by our new QEP?
The second year of college is a crossroads at which many students struggle with indecision around their academic major and career choice, lack of connectedness, and intensified academic standards; these struggles can lead to general dissatisfaction with and disengagement from academic life. The QEP Development Committee identified that there is an attrition gap between the second and third year of undergraduate study, particularly for our exploratory students.
Between the second and third year, our exploratory students are retained at a significantly lower rate than students with declared majors. At UofL, we use the term “exploratory” to identify students who have not declared a major (“undecided”) or who have not earned admittance to the academic unit that shelters the program of their choice (“pre-unit”).
Research on this subset of students demonstrates that the typical challenges around “academic fit” and satisfaction in the second year can be exacerbated for students like our exploratory students who have not yet clarified a meaningful academic course of action, including declaring a suitable major. This gap in student success can be seen as an opportunity to foster a campus-wide conversation about student learning and student success in the crucial second year that can have long-term implications for our support of our undergraduate population inside and outside the classroom.
Approximately 25% of UofL students (and nearly 50% of students in the College of Arts and Sciences) enter our institution each year as exploratory students. The data suggests that a large number of UofL students enter our institution each year as exploratory students and stand to benefit from a structured learning opportunity, structured as our QEP, in order to enhance their ability to thrive academically, to discover an appropriate disciplinary home at the University, and to persist through critical transition points and challenges of the second year and beyond.
What will our QEP intervention for their students look like?
The QEP initiative is a project with a 5-year span to design, implement and assess a 3-credit seminar course focused on academic and personal development of exploratory students. Exploratory students will be recruited for and advised into the seminar, but the course will be open to other students who seek to deepen their academic skills and explore the alignment of their majors, career plans, and personal strengths. The QEP course will be offered as an elective seminar out of ECPY enrolling 20 students per section.
A central goal of the seminar is to help students sharpen their intellectual skills. The course will guide students to develop habits of critical thinking, to identify and practice methods of intellectual inquiry, and to find and evaluate information in reading and research in order to use it effectively in academic contexts and to transfer these skills into other domains of their lives, including personal decision- making.
More details about the seminar curriculum are being developed by the QEP Faculty Work Groups meeting during the fall 2016 and spring 2017 semesters. Faculty interested in getting involved can send an email to QEP2017@louisville.edu.
Which department will offer this new QEP seminar? Who will teach the new sophomore seminars?
The QEP seminar, enrolling 20 students per section, will be offered through the Department of Counseling and Human Development as an elective that will count toward any undergraduate degree program.
Exploratory students will be recruited and advised into the seminar but the course will be open to other students who seek to deepen their academic skills and explore the alignment of their majors, career.
A "soft pilot" of the QEP seminar will be offered in spring 2018. Faculty committing to the project will be paid at the x-pay rates outside of their annual workload plan.
How will the principles or concepts of critical thinking from i2a be part of the new QEP?
The new QEP seminar for second-year students will have a central focus on helping students strengthen their intellectual independence in order to be successful thinkers and self-directed learners while also providing them with opportunities to strengthen their major and career clarity. The activities and assessments related to these outcomes will involve a variety of critical thinking tasks (such as information gathering, applying concepts, evaluation options, decision making) that align with the critical thinking approach that has been a central component of i2a. The faculty, staff and students involved with developing our new QEP will be vetting the successful tools and strategies from i2a to determine how they might be adapted for our next QEP.
How will our institution pay for the cost of implementing this QEP?
SACS expects that institutions will set designate appropriate financial, physical and human resources to implement, sustain and complete the QEP. They expect institutions will create a specific QEP budget that comes from a realistic assessment of what is possible and desirable and possible. Our new QEP will be funded as part of the same budget that is currently supports the sustainability of our first, QEP, i2a. An itemized budget for our new QEP will be created as part of the full proposal to SACS available to the campus in Fall 2016.
How will the project be assessed?
Our QEP assessment plan needs to be multifaceted, according to the SACS guidelines. Our plan uses both indirect and direct measures, both qualitative and quantitative data, to assess the learning outcomes and benchmarks related to student learning. Our approach will include regular formative assessment of the QEP seminar and the QEP project itself, allowing us to adjust implementation activities, timelines and assessment instruments as necessary. The Assessment Subcommittee of the QEP Development Committee is charged with developing a complete assessment plan that aligns with the 5-year implementation plan of the QEP.
What are topics that other schools have chosen for their QEP?
By design, QEPs are unique to each institution. However, there are QEP topics that are commonly identified by schools, such as critical thinking; skills for college success; written and oral communication skills; integrative and applied learning and reading skills. To learn more, check out the SACS 2012 Research Summary of QEP topics [PDF]
For a complete list of QEP topics adopted by SACS’ institutions, visit this section of the SACS-COC website.