April 28, 2011

Let's talk about SACS, baby

Recently, I’ve been appointed to the Office of Planning, Assessment, and Research during part of my time to assist with accreditation for the college. Texas is in SACS territory (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools), so we are following their guidelines for reaffirmation. I am assisting in collecting, organizing, and creating both a paper and digital library of all accreditation documents. This is something entirely new to me, so it’s really helpful to learn more about the college and I’m getting to interact with more faculty and administrators than I would have been able to otherwise.

Although learning in library school that comprehension of the parent institution’s mission and goals is essential in understanding the library’s connection to the college, that understanding didn’t go too much more in depth on the institution side.

How accreditation works is that there are various compliance numbers to consider, such as -- 

Core Requirement 2.9: The institution, through ownership or formal arrangements or agreements, provides and supports student and faculty access and user privileges to adequate library collections and services and to other learning/information resources consistent with the degrees offered. Collections, resources, and services are sufficient to support all its educational, research, and public service programs. (Learning Resources and Services)

-- for example. This one in particular is geared toward the library, of course, but there are others like...

Comprehensive Standard 3.3.1 The institution identifies expected outcomes, assesses the extent to which it achieves these outcomes, and provides evidence of improvement based on analysis of the results in each of the following areas...

So for each, the college needs to gather evidence and also write a narrative reflecting how the standard has been met and incorporate how the evidence proves this to be true. So as for the library and many other areas of the college, instruction, physical space, staff, and more don’t just have their own assessment to consider, but also assessing an area or a program for accreditation purposes.

The tricky part for what I’m working on is that there are hundreds of pieces of evidence, with more being added as time goes on. On top of that, certain pieces can be used for multiple compliance numbers. Although much of our evidence is housed online, I have learned that SACS prefers to view the materials in an offline format (read: PDF), so simply providing URLs is not an option. It’s also preferable to SACS to be able to easily find cited portions of documents in the evidence (save the time of the user). To improve this capability, I am creating one master copy in a master evidence file, and then in each compliance number file, a document with extracted pages (if necessary) and/or highlighting is saved for easy access. This comes in handy when there is a 100+ page piece of evidence! Likewise, in a born-print format, documents must be digitized. As this is the first year a digital and official paper library is being created, there is a lot of organizing and archiving at the outset.

This is certainly a project I will be reporting on as time goes on!