Beginning in 2012, the accrediting authority for the Texas A&M Health Science Center, (HSC), the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), will evaluate the HSC for compliance with core requirements, comprehensive standards and federal requirements. The outcome of this evaluation will help determine if the HSC will receive continuing accreditation.Dr. Nancy W. Dickey, president of the Texas A&M Health Science Center and vice chancellor for health affairs for The Texas A&M University System, emphasizes the importance of this reaffirmation.
“Accreditation for the HSC is necessary to award degrees,” she says. “It also ensures a level of quality in education and that degrees will be recognized as true achievements. Indeed, it is the stamp of approval that an institution of higher education is viable and secure.”
Overall accreditation must be granted to an institution of higher education, while discipline-specific accreditation must be granted to its academic components. SACS accredits the entire HSC to award degrees. HSC academic units are accredited by their discipline-specific accrediting organizations. But, they are not fully certified until SACS grants accreditation for the entire HSC.
Education in action
“Although SACS does not begin reviewing the HSC until 2012, accreditation preparations are now well under way, and the entire HSC community will play an important role in our gaining official recognition,” Dr. Dickey says.
And she points to new opportunities to enhance education through accreditation.
A new component of the accreditation process is the Quality Enhancement Plan, or QEP. The goal of the plan is to improve some aspect of education at the HSC. The plan involves broad-based participation from The Texas A&M Health Science Center community in selecting and focusing on a project that will enhance student learning throughout the institution.
How it works
The first phase of the QEP process is selecting a program topic based on suggestions made by faculty. The deadline for submissions of topics is March 1. The second phase involves selecting the top three proposed topics. Faculty who submitted the top three topics will each receive a $5,000 planning grant to complete a more detailed summary of their proposal. The proposals will be reviewed and one will be selected for full development of the QEP. Once completed, the QEP will be submitted to SACS for review.
During the accreditation site visit in 2012, the QEP will be a major focus of discussion. Dr. Eric Solomon, executive director of the HSC Office of Institutional Research, describes what could happen during a site visit.
“The site visit team could call upon faculty, staff and students at any time to respond to questions about their awareness of the QEP and the project selected to enhance education at the HSC,” he says. “The way our HSC community responds to questions from SACS about our QEP could either show a unified commitment to enhance education or a deficiency in the process.
“Depending upon their assessment of our student-learning process, the SACS on-site visit team may recommend changes to the health science center’s QEP to improve it. Once changes have been made, the HSC can begin to implement the student-learning focus. After five years, SACS will review the health science center’s progress on implementing the QEP.”
Why it’s important
Dr. Solomon says the entire QEP process is an integral part of accreditation.
“If you don’t have a successful QEP program, you don’t get accredited,” he says. “QEP is important because it presents us with an opportunity to work together as an educational community and improve our educational programs.
Dr. Solomon says SACS looks at policies, procedures and organizational charts to see if there’s symmetry and equality in the way students, faculty and staff are managed in various components. He says while most academic units are familiar with their own accrediting process, they may not be as knowledgeable about the entire HSC accrediting process.
“It’s paramount for accreditation that we do something that proves that our student-learning plan improves the educational experience for our students,” he says. It could mean that we meet the standard of viable health science centers in the accreditation process.
“We learned that broad-based participation is something that SACS values as part of the accreditation process,” Dr. Solomon continues. “They measure success through evidence of participation through all components.
“While the faculty suggest the student learning topic, and the staff helps to support it, the students are at the center of the project. They are the beneficiaries of this whole effort. It makes sense that students have input for the topics selected. That’s why a web-based survey will gather comments so students’ voices be heard. This is for their benefit. It is for their future.”
Looking to the future
And, Dr. Roderick E. McCallum, vice president for academic affairs, agrees. He says a successful QEP will benefit the student’s future as well as the future of the entire health science center.
“With the QEP, we look ahead,” he says. “Selecting the QEP topic is one of the more important decisions we will make to affirm our accreditation. We need ideas from faculty and support from students and staff to develop the right plan.
“With the QEP process, we will begin discussions about how we can improve student achievement, but it won’t end there,” Dr. McCallum continues. “This discourse will become an integral part of doing the business of learning at the health science center. From the QEP process, we expect collegial cross-disciplinary ideas to emerge and subsequently to produce new student-learning models. It’s not just about accreditation; it’s about being the best we can be.