USF prepares for SACSCOC site visit

The SACSCOC’s site visit will take place Jan. 26-28 and will be conducted fully online. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

Despite operating under a consolidated university since July, there are still other obstacles awaiting the university until it can officially be considered an accredited, consolidated institution by USF’s accrediting body — the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Among the steps, the university is rushing against time to prepare all the documentation needed for the first site visit in January to evaluate whether or not the university is in compliance with SACSCOC consolidation policies.

The virtual SACSCOC site visit is scheduled to take place Jan. 26-28. During the visit, senior campus administrators, faculty, students, academic and student support staff, Board of Trustees (BOT) members and other groups chosen by SACSCOC will discuss with the site visit team whether the university has been in compliance with all SACSCOC policies regarding consolidation.

“We’re very happy that we don’t have to do a hybrid site visit,” Vice Provost of Strategic Planning, Performance and Accountability Theresa Chisolm said in the Nov. 10 BOT meeting. 

“It will be a virtual site visit and we’ve been given great direction from SACSCOC. We’ll be working very closely with [USF Vice President for Technology and Chief Information Officer] Sidney Fernandes to make sure there are no glitches, that everybody has good headsets and microphones, etc.”

Consolidation of USF’s three campuses officially took effect July 1, when the university began operating under a single institutional accreditation from SACSCOC. Before then, the university used to operate as separately accredited institutions.

Now, USF has to prove to SACSCOC that it’s complying with all policies required for consolidation and all campuses are operating under a single accreditation, with its main campus located in Tampa and branch campuses located in St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee.

In preparation for the site visit, the university must submit a “comprehensive self-study” report by Dec. 14. The report will document USF’s compliance with the policies imposed by SACSCOC since it consolidated its campuses.

The site visit documentation and evidence will be submitted to USF President Steven Currall by Dec. 4 for review and approval. The university will have until Dec. 7 to make any changes before the documents are submitted to SACSCOC.

All documentation required for the site visit will be sent to SACSCOC through FedEx by the end of the day Dec. 11.

Each campus, including the Morsani College of Medicine in downtown Tampa, will have separate meetings with the SACSCOC site visit team, according to Chisolm.

After the January site visit, the accrediting body site visit team will submit a written report to SACSCOC documenting its observations. If needed, the university will have the opportunity to respond in writing to any of the observations outlined before the final decision is made regarding USF’s consolidation.

The final decision of USF’s singular accreditation status will take place during the SACSCOC BOT meeting in either June or December 2021. Until then, while the odds are low, risks remain, according to Chisolm.

“We fully expect that SACSCOC will decide that we can continue as one University of South Florida, what they consider a new, accredited, consolidated institution, and that this will occur without a need for any monitoring,” she said. 

“But it may be possible that there’s something that they find that they’re not fully satisfied with and will require us to submit a monitoring report. And while it’s highly unlikely, if they find us to be significantly out of compliance with any of their requirements, we could have sanctions imposed on us and that would be a really negative impact on the reputation of the university.”

However, Chisolm remains confident that the process will be successful.

“We’re doing everything that we’re supposed to be doing,” she said. “We’re living up to the changes that we said we would make in the substantive change perspective, so we don’t expect that this will be the outcome but I do need to make you aware of that risk.”