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TWU anticipates visit from accrediting board

Profile image for By Rachel Mehlhaff / Staff Writer
By Rachel Mehlhaff / Staff Writer

Texas Woman’s University has been working to reaffirm its accreditation for a couple of years, and in April the accrediting board will make its visit.

A committee from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges will visit TWU from April 8-11 to talk with faculty, staff, students and university officials.

“We’re feeling very good about everything at this point,” said TWU Provost Robert Neely.

The committee will give its opinion April 11, he said. TWU then will follow up with the committee for the next steps.

The final decision will be made in December.

The accreditation determines a university’s eligibility for federal and state financial aid for students, it is important for transferring college credits, and students need accredited degrees for most graduate programs.

There are three categories of standards: core standards, comprehensive standards and federal standards.

Neely said there were 15 standards for which TWU was listed as noncompliant, meaning the committee needs more information in those areas.

But TWU has been working to answer the accrediting board’s concerns and questions throughout the process, he said.

Faculty is one of the areas of concern where TWU has been working to improve. At their February meeting, Neely told the regents that the accreditation board suggested that TWU put a plan in place to add more faculty members to keep up with more students taking more credit hours.

The number of faculty has increased from 450 in 2007 to 452 in 2013. TWU plans to add 18 faculty members in four years, starting with six new faculty members in the fall.

TWU’s $2.2 million in revenue from a recent tuition increase will help pay for the additional faculty as well as other needs, such as faculty salary increases to stay competitive with other universities.

Neely said the site visit is partially about standards but most of it will be about the five-year quality enhancement plan TWU has established as part of the process.

It is the first plan of its kind TWU has been required to make because it wasn’t a requirement when the university was reaffirmed in 2002.

TWU’s plan is called “Pioneering Pathways: Learn by Doing” and focuses on experiential learning. The accrediting agency requires that the plan focus on student learning, Neely said.

The goals of the plan are to offer experiential learning opportunities, have the infrastructure and resources in place, and cultivate partnerships to increase opportunities for experiential learning.

Experiential learning includes internships, service experience, civic engagement, scholarship and creative activities.

The university community was surveyed about the topic, he said. The goal is to engage students in their discipline beyond normal classwork, Neely said.

In order to show the accreditation committee the merit of the plan, TWU conducted a pilot project.

“When SACS is here, we will be able to say something tangible,” Neely said.

If it is approved, the plan will be put into place in the fall. It will be implemented through the Pioneer Center for Student Excellence.

Kimberly Miloch, interim director of the plan, said it’s taken about 2 1/2 years of planning. As part of the accreditation, TWU will go through the process every five years, either adding to the plan or formulating a new one.

“The key thing is it’s really student-focused,” she said.

TWU wants to offer hands-on, applied learning and prepare students for the workforce, she said.

One example of experiential learning is Enactus, formerly Students in Free Enterprise. Enactus is a student organization in which students use business concepts for outreach programs in the community.

Enactus adopted a village in Belize and is selling jewelry, shawls, worry dolls and other items handmade by women and girls from the village. The proceeds are invested back into the village.

The new plan will support programs like that by offering grants to help students travel to Belize.

Grants will be offered and TWU will establish partnerships with the community for internships, Miloch said. Through the plan, TWU will establish criteria for the grants.

Faculty and student organizations can apply for the grants.

“We will fund as many as we can,” she said.

The plan will last through spring 2018. The goal is to promote and engage TWU students in professional development, Miloch said.

Miloch said creating the plan has been a positive experience for TWU.

“It’s a process that allows us to continually improve,” she said.

RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889.