October 01, 2010

University earns full 10-year accreditation

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale has earned the maximum 10-year continuation of its institutional accreditation, a distinction the University has maintained since 1913.

Think of it as the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” in higher education.

SIUC is among 1,200 educational institutions in a 19-state region, from Wyoming to West Virginia and from North Dakota to Arkansas, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

“This sends a very important message to all of the University’s stakeholders, including the residents of Illinois who support us with their tax dollars,” Chancellor Rita Cheng said. “Recognized experts in higher education confirm that we are delivering on our promise of excellence in teaching, research and public service.”

A key component in the accreditation process is a thorough self-study that examines the University’s progress over the past 10 years and its goals for the next decade. Work on the 368-page document, “Southern at 140: A Progress Report Towards Southern at 150,” began three years ago and reflects the effort of more than 100 people across the campus.

The self-study demonstrates that SIUC fulfills its mission in ways broadly defined by each of five criteria established by the Higher Learning Commission: mission and integrity; preparing for the future; student learning and effective teaching; acquisition, discovery and application of knowledge; and engagement and service. But it also reflects the University’s commitment to self-improvement.

A 14- member team of “consultant-evaluators,” comprised of individuals from peer institutions, conducted an on-site visit last spring. The team met with the SIU Board of Trustees, various administrators, faculty, staff and students.

Professor James S. Allen, director of Assessment and Program Review, was SIUC’s self-study coordinator and chair.

“We have confirmation by experts in higher education that we are indeed delivering on our promises,” Allen said. “These people know higher education, they are practitioners who engage in reviews of institutions such as SIUC, and we have sustained their careful scrutiny of what we do, and succeeded.”

What the reviewers found was “a different institution than we were 10 years ago,” Allen said.

“We have a more significant commitment to research that we did not have 10 years ago,” he noted. “We have added to our infrastructure of buildings with facilities like the expanded and remodeled Morris Library, the reworking of classrooms and the remodeling of Altgeld Hall. We also have engaged in significant planning. ‘Southern at 150: Excellence Through Commitment’ has provided us with a roadmap for the future that has sustained us through a number of difficulties with state budgets.”

He compared accreditation to Consumer Reports’ testing of products.

“We had an independent agency check us out and we are doing what we say we are doing,” he added. “We will continue to build and in 10 more years, we’ll be even stronger.”

In response to recommendations from the accreditation team, the University will submit a progress report on its financial situation to the Higher Learning Commission in 2011. In addition, the Commission will conduct a “focus visit” in 2013 to assess progress in long-term planning.