The University of Georgia completed a key step in its reaffirmation of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) with the recent conclusion of an on-site review.
The 10-member review committee visited UGA March 28-31 and was chaired by Maurice Eftink, associate provost emeritus and professor emeritus of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Mississippi. It also included University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz and Florida International University Interim President Kenneth A. Jessell. In addition to meeting with President Jere W. Morehead and other members of the university’s leadership team, the review committee visited the Tifton and Buckhead campuses and met with groups of faculty, staff and students at those campuses and in Athens.
UGA is nearing completion of the 10-year SACSCOC reaffirmation cycle. As the first part of this process, institutions are required to document compliance with the commission’s 72 standards. In its exit conference with the UGA leadership team on March 31, the visiting committee had zero recommendations regarding UGA’s compliance with the standards. This equates to a perfect score at this stage of the reaffirmation process.
“I extend my deep appreciation to the many UGA faculty and staff who have worked tirelessly over the past several years on our reaffirmation of accreditation,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “UGA’s success at this step in the process is the result of their collective efforts.”
Active learning QEP takes shape
For the second step in the process of reaffirmation, universities must submit a quality enhancement plan (QEP) to improve student learning and success. UGA’s quality enhancement plan is focused on fostering a culture of active learning on campus. Dozens of faculty, staff and students have contributed to developing the plan over the last two years.
In January 2020, Morehead charged an 11-member topic selection committee, which was composed of faculty and also included the Student Government Association president, with identifying an area of focus for the QEP that aligned with the university’s 2025 Strategic Plan. The topic selection committee considered numerous programs and opportunities before recommending active learning for the QEP.
Active learning is broadly defined as the condition under which students are active participants in the classroom, learning is understood as the construction of knowledge rather than its absorption, and instructors guide students to construct knowledge while actively reflecting on the process of learning. In practice, this can include in-class problem solving, group work, individual writing and reflection, or a number of other strategies.
“A growing body of evidence supports the use of active learning,” noted S. Jack Hu, the university’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “Among other benefits, it has been linked to increased retention of course content and the development of intellectual skills that promote student success and lifelong learning.”
In November 2020, a 32-member QEP development and implementation committee was charged with developing the topic recommendation into a fully realized active learning program.
Hu noted that UGA has a number of achievements to build upon as it plans for the rollout of the quality enhancement plan in the fall. Promoting active learning was a key recommendation of the university’s 2017 Task Force on Student Learning and Success, and Morehead allocated $1 million in classroom renovation funds based on the task force report. In many cases, classrooms have been refitted with technology and moveable furniture that facilitate group work and make it easier for the instructor to move among the students. The three-week Active Learning Summer Institute also was created as a result of the task force report. To date, ALSI has reached 79 faculty members whose redesigned courses have enrolled 39,000 students.
The active learning QEP will add to these initial investments, creating additional instructor development programming, initiatives to help students succeed in active learning classes, and funding for classroom renovations. The university and the UGA Foundation together have dedicated $1.2 million per year for the next five years in support of the QEP.
Unlike experiential learning and the First-Year Odyssey Seminar program, the active learning QEP will not create new requirements for students. The expectation, however, is that students will encounter active learning in many courses during their undergraduate studies.
“From its origins in the 2017 task force report, the active learning QEP reflects the experience and work of hundreds of academic leaders, faculty, staff and students,” Morehead said. “The foundation they have created promises to have a transformative impact on teaching and learning in UGA’s classrooms.”
The SACSCOC on-site review committee also reviewed the QEP and offered insightful suggestions for UGA to consider as it seeks to foster active learning across its campuses. To conclude the reaffirmation process, the committee will forward its report to the SACSCOC board of trustees for a formal vote at its annual meeting. Notice of reaffirmation of accreditation is anticipated by January 2023.
“We appreciate the feedback of the review committee and look forward to implementing the active learning initiatives next fall,” Hu said. “We are confident that it will take the learning environment at UGA to an even higher level of excellence.”
To learn more about UGA’s reaffirmation of accreditation, visit https://provost.uga.edu/oaie/accreditation/reaffirmation-2022/.