Amarillo College officials are beaming with pride.
After a three-year, herculean effort involving research, internal assessment, development and implementation of strategic plans for student success, AC itself becomes a model for success among other colleges seeking accreditation.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges formally recognized AC as meeting or exceeding the criteria for accreditation on June 20.
“Accreditation is a stamp of approval that this is a quality institution,” said Danita McAnally, chief of planning and advancement and also SACSCOC accreditation liaison, who led the reaffirmation endeavor.
When McAnally was asked how all the committees who worked so hard on the efforts were feeling about the reaccreditation, she said, “Relief! We are very proud to have accomplished this goal without followup on the very first try.”
“There are few things more important than to be accredited by your regional accrediting agency,” said Dr. Paul Matney, Amarillo College president. “The SACSCOC had only two recommendations, which we responded to. To get only two recommendations is almost unheard of. We felt very good about that.”
The two recommendations were that the evaluation process for the Quality Enhancement Plan needed to be strengthened and that instructor qualifications needed to be re-examined.
Students would have been affected dramatically had AC’s accreditation not been reaffirmed.
“If we lost our accreditation, you wouldn’t be guaranteed that your credits would transfer and we would lose all of our federal financial aid,” Matney said. “We might as well close up shop.”
Accreditation is required in order for an institution to receive Title IV federal funding. “Almost 60 percent of our students qualify for Pell grants,” Matney said. “Those are need-based grants that help students pay for their education.”
If in pursuit of a master’s or bachelor’s degree, a transcript from an accredited institution ensures one’s transfer to a university such as Texas Tech or West Texas A&M.
Most employers also seek out college graduates with accredited degrees.
“People are trying to become educated so they can establish a future, and that means getting a job,” said Joe Wyatt, AC communication coordinator. “It is supremely vital that we be accredited for those leaving here seeking employment.”
The success of the reaffirmation of accreditation is due to the passing of both the Quality Enhancement Plan, also referred to as No Excuses!-First Year Seminar, and the Compliance Certification Plan.
FYS is a course designed to promote student success for underprepared, incoming freshman and to give them college and career readiness. In the development of FYS, after focus groups noticed struggling completion and transfer rates, AC wanted to address life issues that get in the way of students completing their education.
“We have a brand new Money Management Center, all grant-funded, going in this fall,” McAnally said. “It will teach financial literacy.”
Social service interventions also are connecting in-need students with resources, and a Mentoring, Coaches and Champions program was launched. The Career Center, where career assessments are done, is also being integrated into FYS.
“We want every student to have a success story,” McAnally said.
“We built our own FYS,” Wyatt said. “When looking at best practices across the country, other colleges that are in our shoes, going through a similar process of reaccreditation and valiantly striving to institute a program, should look at the success of our FYS.”
The Compliance Certification plan structured online courses to guarantee that the student enrolled in the course actually is the one taking the course, eliminating potential cheating.
Faculty credentials also closely looked at. Only three instructors were in question, and those questions were answered.
One instructor was replaced, and two others still are teaching at AC but went on to further their education to meet the requirements set by the college.
More than 20 colleges already have contacted McAnally, who also directed the last reaffirmation 10 years ago, to consult with her on how to achieve institutional effectiveness and become accredited.
AC has been an accredited institution since its founding in 1929. Each decade, AC has voluntarily undergone the rigorous self-evaluation process of reaccreditation to stay in compliance with SACSCOC standards.