Plans are under way to reestablish UM as an accredited institution of higher learning. Based on guidelines provided by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ (SACS) Commission on Colleges, the accrediting agency working with UM, the University is currently assessing its strengths and weaknesses as well as drafting plans to help enhance UM’s efficacy as a learning institution.
According to SACS, accreditation by its commission indicates that a university has a goal that is conducive to providing higher education for its student body and that it has the tools, curriculum and services necessary for achieving this goal.
Part of the accreditation process requires self-analysis on behalf of UM’s own SACS committee, led by Andy S. Gomez, special assistant to the provost. As chair of the SACS committee, Gomez is in charge of overseeing the accreditation process for all of UM’s schools and departments in academic as well as non-academic areas.
It has been 10 years since the University last underwent the accreditation process, and this will be the first time the University has undergone the process during President Donna E. Shalala’s tenure.
“I think the University under President Shalala has improved tremendously academically, but there is still a lot of room to grow,” Gomez said.
As part of the accreditation process, UM has drafted a new strategic plan to further develop the University as a learning institution. The plan outlines the ways in which the University plans to “develop its strengths” in areas including research, the students’ educational experience and service to the community.
Plans are also under way to draft UM’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), which will address issues that the University plans to develop in the effort to further enhance the learning experience for its students. In 2007 the finalized QEP will be submitted to an offsite committee of peer education leaders from across the nation, who in turn will review the plan and make their own recommendations on it.
Another goal of the UM SACS committee is the involvement of the student body in the accreditation process. Gomez stresses that one of the main purposes of this process is to ensure student satisfaction with the University and all of its departments and services.
“To me, the University is like a business and the students are the stockholders of that business,” Gomez said. “A business cannot move forward if the stockholders are unsatisfied.”
In an effort to facilitate student involvement with UM’s accreditation, student representatives from the undergraduate and graduate schools have been assigned to the SACS committee.
Krizia Giambanco, sophomore, serves as the undergraduate representative to the committee. As a student representative, Giambanco is responsible for attending committee meetings in order to become better acquainted with the accreditation process and the people involved. Giambanco also serves as a liaison between the committee, the student body and its governing bodies, and she assists the committee in its drafting of the QEP by providing student feedback.
“I think [involving students]is probably the best approach UM can take because the administration and students oftentimes have different views regarding what can be improved at UM,” Giambanco said.
In the near future, the SACS committee plans on holding student-led focus groups in order to get a better idea of what the students want to see improved at their school. As a student representative, this is Giambanco’s designated operation.
The committee hopes that the focus groups will assist students in understanding the accreditation process as well as help the committee in its efforts to draft its QEP. After the QEP is submitted to the offsite committee, an onsite committee of the University’s peers will visit UM to review the school’s QEP and determine if the school is living up to the goals it has set as a learning institution. The visit is scheduled to take place in the spring of 2008.
Marina Nazir can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.