University requiring enhancement plans

Mai Hoang

At one time, accreditation for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools required Western to look into its past.

These days, SACS is asking Western how it can make its future brighter.

The university must still report if it’s in compliance with a number of items on SACS’s criteria. But now the association is requiring universities to submit a Quality Enhancement Plan that will outline a program with a central theme that will enhance student learning.

“Our charge is to come up with some plan that is consistent with all the things we’ve been doing and fits the character of our institution to make the learning experience at Western better,” said Retta Poe, psychology professor and faculty co-chair for the SACS leadership team.

The plan will be due to SACS by Jan. 15, 2005. Western will be up for a SACS review that year.

The university could lose its accreditation if it doesn’t comply with SACS requirements.

The plan will include activities and initiatives Western will implement in the next five to seven years with the theme “Engaging Students For Success in a Global Society,” said Public Health Professor Dennis George, a faculty co-chair of the SACS Leadership Team.

The Leadership Team announced its theme choice this month after getting feedback this spring from university organizations for several possibilities on campus.

Under this theme, the plan will determine ways students can become more involved in a variety of activities. Involvement will not only increase student success in a certain major or field but also increase the use of their skills or majors in the community, George said.

But the process of making the plan will involve more than students. People throughout the campus community will have a role in creating this plan, George said.

“It will touch such a huge segment on our campus,” he said.

University Senate chairman Doug Smith said an essential part of the university’s job is to serve the state.

“As an environmental sociologist, I would like students, local individuals and community members to see the interconnections between themselves and the surrounding environment,” he said.

President Gary Ransdell said Western placed emphasis on community engagement, leadership and volunteering before SACS came along.

“Sometimes timing and circumstance come together, and this is one of these times,” he said. “I feel like it’s a responsibility of higher education. If we’re going to be among the best comprehensive universities in the nation, which we intend to be, it’s a responsibility we must embrace.”

When SACS makes its site visit, its members will discuss the plan with Western representatives and give feedback on how to improve the plan. The university will implement the plan between 2005-2012, Poe said.

Poe said a committee that will include representation of students, faculty and staff will develop the plan over the next 16 months.

“We will be asking for ideas and suggestions from the whole community,” Poe said.

The online system

In the next few weeks, it will become easier for university departments to submit their assessment plans.

The SACS leadership team, along with Eric Wolfe from the Information Technology department, developed a system that will allow plans to be submitted online.

As part of the SACS accreditation, each department is required to write a plan that examines their department objectives, states whether they have reached those objectives and discusses how they will meet those objectives in the future.

George said through this system a plan can be written out, reviewed and approved without using a single piece of paper.

“When you’re looking at an assessment plan, you’re talking about a lot of paper going back and fourth,” George said. “This is going to eliminate this.”

Poe said users will have to have a password to enter information into the site, but anybody in the university may be able to examine the information.

“It will make it more public,” she said. “I think that’s useful information for the university community.”

Reach Mai Hoang at [email protected]