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USF St. Petersburg faces challenge to its credibility

An accreditation agency places the school on "warning'' status.

Published December 14, 2007

[Times (2006)]
Chancellor Karen White said she sent a 14-page report to SACS.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Eighteen months after earning independence from the main campus, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg faces scrutiny from the agency whose seal of approval is vital to its credibility.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' commission on colleges has placed the school on "warning" status for six months, citing its failure to comply with two accreditation standards on student competency and academic achievement.

For example, USF St. Petersburg officials did not provide sufficient proof of their expectations for what students will learn when they complete a class, said Belle Wheelan, head of the SACS commission.

"For English, math, history, they have to identify what outcomes they expect students to know," Wheelan said Thursday as she left SACS' meeting in New Orleans. "The information they provided to us in those areas this time was insufficient. So they were placed on warning."

Karen White, chancellor overseeing the campus, said she won't know exactly what information SACS officials want until she sees the group's full report next month.

But White stressed in a letter to staff and faculty Thursday that the warning "is not a reflection on the quality of our academic programs or the credentials of our faculty."

She told the Times that USF St. Petersburg sends reports to SACS every six months as a provision of its newly acquired accreditation, and the institution cleared up all but two earlier SACS concerns.

She said faculty are working to improve their student assessment practices. She said she and her staff sent SACS a 14-page report before this week's meeting in New Orleans with information on graduates' job placement and licensure exam performances, among other things.

"We have given them lots of information," White said. "I just think we need to provide further evidence in the manner they want."

USF St. Petersburg officials have until SACS' June meeting to show proof of compliance and will send SACS a progress report in April.

A warning period can last up to two years and is the least severe of SACS' sanctions.

According to SACS' policies, it "often, but not necessarily, precedes probation," the more serious sanction.

If a college still doesn't meet SACS' standards after the maximum two-year probation, it can lose its accreditation altogether.

SACS is the official accrediting agency for some 800 public and private higher education institutions in 11 southern states from Florida to Tennessee.

SACS' endorsement essentially tells potential students the institution's academics, finances and leadership are up to par.

For USF St. Petersburg, losing SACS approval would be devastating, given how long and hard it fought for day-to-day autonomy from the main campus.

In 2000, state lawmaker Don Sullivan tried, but failed to sever the campus from the USF system and turn it into a separate college.

In the ensuing years, USF St. Petersburg officials sought more and more independence from the main campus in Tampa.

Lawmakers approved a measure in 2001 that forced USF to grant more autonomy to its regional campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota, including budgeting and separate accreditation.

In 2004, USF president Judy Genshaft said she would let St. Petersburg branch leaders select their own students, create their own courses and hire and grant tenure to faculty.

Two years later, the branch campus got SACS' endorsement.

USF St. Petersburg vice chancellor Mark Durand called it "the rebirth of a college."


About USF St. Petersburg

  • Opened: 1965
  • Located: On 46 acres on Bayboro Harbor
  • Enrollment: 3,586
  • Programs: 26 undergraduate degree and 12 graduate degree programs, including environmental science, journalism and Florida studies.
  • Degrees awarded in 2005-06: 653
  • 2006 milestones: First residence hall opens; SACS grants accreditation

Where the school falls short

SACS Comprehensive Standard 3.5.1: The institution identifies college-level competencies withinthe general education core and provides evidence that graduates have attained those competencies.

SACS Comprehensive Standard 4.1: The institution evaluates success with respect to student achievement, including as appropriate, consideration of course completion, state licensing examinations, and job placement rates.

Sources: USF; SACS


[Last modified December 14, 2007, 01:43:14]

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