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Accrediting agency frees USF St. Petersburg from probation

Nearly a year to the day after landing on probation, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg is once again in good standing.

The school learned Thursday that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges was lifting sanctions it levied in June 2008 for noncompliance with two standards involving the measurement of student progress.

No additional follow-up is required, and the school won't receive another visit from accreditors until 2011 when it will be time for its five-year evaluation.

While receiving a sanction "is never a good thing," USF St. Petersburg interim regional chancellor Margaret Sullivan said the experience gave the school the opportunity to make some changes that will benefit students.

"It was the stimulus for doing some cutting edge research in the evaluation of general education courses," Sullivan said. "It gave us a chance to look and see where students were struggling and to make improvements."

She credited the nearly 100 faculty members who spent many hours working to correct the deficiencies.

"It was a total USF St. Petersburg effort," Sullivan said. "It paid off both in terms of the quality of the program and in the very significant impact it had on the review committee."

School officials were shocked when the agency decided to place USF St. Petersburg on probation. The decision came two years after the same group awarded the campus separate accreditation from USF Tampa.

While the school passed muster on 87 of 89 standards, it fell short in two areas: tracking student success after graduation through measures such as job placement and scores on certification exams; and assessing the performance of students in general education courses.

Those are things all universities struggle with, according to SACS president Belle Wheelan. But that doesn't mean they're not critical to a university's success, which was why USF St. Petersburg was given a year to address its shortcomings.

A team of administrators and professors began meeting almost immediately after the commission issued its report.

"I think the biggest thing was making sure there was uniformity in each course syllabus and for spelling out student learning outcomes," said USF St. Petersburg anthropology professor Jay Sokolovsky. "The trick was finding a more systematic way to document what was happening."

The upside of being forced to address the issue, Sokolovsky said, was that faculty members were brought together from across disciplines to talk about how they could better address student needs.

Times staff writer Donna Winchester can be reached at winchester@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8413.

Accrediting agency frees USF St. Petersburg from probation 06/25/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 25, 2009 10:47pm]

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