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Poly accreditation not possible by July

USF Polytechnic has two options for gaining accreditation as Florida Polytechnic University and each option requires a much longer wait than state Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, claims it would.

Either option would take at least 18 months, USF President Judy Genshaft told media members Tuesday at Tampa International Airport following a meeting she had with the president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in Atlanta.

The information contradicts a statement made last week by Alexander, who told the Lakeland Ledger that accreditation could be granted as soon as July, after a conversation he had with the SACS president.

The current course of action, which would keep USF Polytechnic under the USF umbrella until it gains accreditation, was approved by the Board of Governors (BOG) and could be finished in 18 months, Genshaft said.

Yet she said if the state Legislature approves a bill proposed by Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, to immediately make Polytechnic Florida’s 12th public university, accreditation would take at least three years.

“We’ll see which one is taken up by the Board of Governors,” Genshaft said. “However, one protects the student more than the other in terms of accreditation, in terms of financial aid and career opportunities.”

While Genshaft said both of these accreditation options work, Alexander’s plan to be independent by July would be harder on students due to the consequences that come with attending a non-accredited university. Students would not be eligible for financial aid or federal education grants, which are not granted to students at unaccredited universities, she said.

“(The first option) is the most efficient and effective way of proceeding,” Genshaft said. “They will be accredited quicker, plus have all of the students receive financial aid benefits and graduate from an accredited university.”

Current students will have the option to graduate with a University of South Florida diploma, regardless of how the BOG decides to handle the Polytechnic split, Genshaft said. A future difficulty for Polytechnic could lie in recruiting new students, as a requirement for accreditation includes graduating 1,244 students.

“The students will stay with the University of South Florida, should they choose to,” she said. “And we will make sure they graduate with a diploma from the University of South Florida, which is an accredited institution.”

Board of Trustees member Steve Mitchell – who made the trip with Genshaft, Polytechnic interim Regional Chancellor David Touchton and others – said SACS promised to expedite the process as much as possible.

“They are trying to expedite as best they can within the system,” he said. “Their processes, because the process is very precise, it’s very important the school’s been accredited properly. They’re not going to waive any requirements for anyone, but just make sure things are done in a timely manner.”

As of now, USF will seek accreditation under the first option. The University, which originally submitted an application for accreditation on behalf of USF Polytechnic in December 2010, resubmitted a revised application Feb. 10, Mitchell said.

If the BOG decides to follow Alexander’s course of action, then any accreditation progress reached between USF and SACS under the first option would become void, Genshaft said.

Touchton said in an interview with The Oracle he felt a lot of headway had been made by the University before Alexander’s public push to grant immediate independence to Polytechnic.

“We were well on our way to (meeting the established benchmarks), but that has been put on hold,” he said. “What we can do mechanically, we are still doing, but we’re just hoping the Legislature will look at what we brought back from SACS and put a speeding halt to it, so we can get back to educating our students.”