Updated Dec. 9, 1:10 p.m.: The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) announced Texas A&M University-San Antonio’s separate accreditation from Texas A&M University-Kingsville Dec. 9. Now that the university has achieved this milestone, membership is retroactive to January 1, 2014. The university will continue to seek SACSCOC approval to expand degree programs and course offerings, including the addition of freshman and sophomore level course, and doctoral degrees.
The original article below was published Nov. 20, 2014 under the headline, “Separate accreditation expected to benefit future students.”
By Alma Linda Manzanares
University officials hope to return to an individually accredited institution at the beginning of Spring Term, opening up opportunities to develop additional academic programs expected to benefit future generations of students.
Administrators here anticipate a final decision from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) during the organization’s board of trustees meeting Dec. 6-9 in Nashville.
Texas A&M University-San Antonio officials submitted an accreditation application in July 2012. Since its establishment in 2000 as Texas A&M University-Kingsville System Center-San Antonio, the university has been a branch campus accredited through A&M-Kingsville.
“We’ll have a lot more freedom,” William Bush, co-chair for the Council on Assessment Planning and Budgeting and chair of humanities and social sciences, said. “We have been frozen for about three years now.”
Bush and Holly Verhasselt, assistant vice president for academic affairs, co-chaired the Council on Assessment Planning and Budgeting, which has handled the accreditation process, working with a group to oversee the university’s assessment processes and draft the accreditation membership application.
During the application process, Bush explained the university cannot make any substantive changes, such as adding any new degree programs. However, each of the universities three colleges began generating program proposals.
“Each of the three colleges, in anticipation of this, has been working on new program proposals and making a mid-range strategic plan for new programs they’d like to develop in the next couple of years,” Bush said.
Program proposals include developing new curricula, and looking at available and needed resources such as faculty and software. A portion of the research includes looking at the labor market and areas of demand that will connect to new coursework and programs.
The proposals must pass through several levels of approval on campus and through the Texas A&M University System in College Station. Depending on the proposal, approval or notification to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board or SACSCOC may be required.
“It’s a process that all takes a fair amount of time but these are all things that have now become a possibility for us because of separate independent accreditation,” Bush said.
Under separate accreditation, the university can move towards downward expanding, which means adding freshman and sophomore level courses.
“Downward expansion is a major substantive change that we couldn’t have even considered without our separate accreditation,” Bush said. “Future students, including students who are in elementary school right now, will really be the ones that will see the big benefits long term that will come from this.”
Diplomas and transcripts will also change to read “Texas A&M University-San Antonio” instead of “Texas A&M University-Kingsville and Texas A&M University-San Antonio.”
“You want to know the university you’re attending has that stamp of approval … that it can stand on its own merits and it doesn’t have to rely on the support of a parent institution,” Bush said. “What you’re getting is a certification of quality. We’re building a university and it takes time, but this is a really big building block to become a comprehensive university.”
Financial aid and banner operations
Once accreditation is approved, the university will also receive a federal identification number, allowing the university to handle and disburse financial aid. The federal ID number is the Federal School Code that students use when filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Verhasselt explained that at the federal level, A&M-San Antonio does not have recognition.
“At the federal level, we basically have no identification of our own,” she said. “As far as the reporting we do to the federal government, like the U.S. Department of Education, we are Kingsville still.”
With an independent federal ID number, the university can compete for major federal grants from agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation.
“A lot of the big grantmaking federal agencies require you to be accredited independently and right now in order for us to compete for those grants we have to go through Kingsville,” Bush said. “Of course, if Kingsville is already applying for a particular grant, that can make it difficult for us.”
A separate banner system, which stores student records such as transcripts, directory information and is used to disburse financial aid, is also in the works, pending accreditation approval.
“A lot of what is going to happen once we get separate accreditation is going to happen behind the scenes,” Verhasselt said. “You’ll still register for classes the same way, you’ll still do all of those things the same way you’re doing them now, only it’ll happen within our own banner system instead of going through Kingsville.”
Similar to developing new programs, changes in financial aid and banner operations will not take effect immediately. Receiving a federal ID code takes between 12-18 months.
“It isn’t like the next day we’re accredited it’s all going to change,” Bush said.
Applying for accreditation through SACSCOC is a four-step process: the pre-applicant workshop, preparation and submission of an application for membership, the candidacy committee visit and the accreditation committee visit.
SACSCOC is the regional body for the accreditation of higher education institutions in the Southern states and Latin America. Accreditation means an institution maintains and achieves clear educational objectives that fulfill its mission and are appropriate to the degrees offered.
The pre-applicant workshop took place in 2010. Since then, administration worked for about two years to prepare the membership application, which was submitted July 2012 and approved June 2013.
According to SACSCOC’s website, the time required to prepare a successful application varies from several months to two years.
The third step, a candidacy visit, is not required for an institution seeking separate accreditation outside of an already existing SACSCOC member, such as A&M-San Antonio through A&M-Kingsville.
The final step in completing the membership, the accreditation team visit, was July 2014.
“It was a ton of work, it was just a huge amount of work and it’s work that continues,” Bush said. “It doesn’t stop now. They (SACSCOC) continue to come back and check on you. So you continue to be accountable to the regional accrediting body.”