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USF St. Petersburg feels good over accreditation review

ST. PETERSBURG — An accreditation committee this week visited the University of South Florida St. Petersburg to check for progress in two areas that landed the school on probation last year.

Administrators won't know whether USF St. Petersburg gets off probation until the end of June.

But they said Thursday that the committee from the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools seemed pleased.

The commission itself cannot speculate the visit, said Tom Benberg, vice president of the Commission on Colleges. But he said the university would get a chance to comment on any action recommended.

In June, the commission concluded that USF St. Petersburg met 87 of 89 standards for accreditation. But it fell short in:

• Tracking student success after graduation through measures like job placement and scores on certification exams. To address this standard, the university has surveyed students, graduates and employers.

• Assessing the performance of students in "general education" courses. Can they write an essay? Use math to solve problems? Understand the scientific method? Analyze how factors like race, age and class influence social interaction?

Universities can live or die by their accreditation. Without it, students are not eligible for financial aid, recruitment suffers and the diploma loses its value.

The one-year probation was handed down two years after the accrediting organization awarded USF St. Petersburg separate accreditation from USF in Tampa. USF St. Petersburg has about 5,600 students and 145 faculty members.

Before the probation was announced, when the agency asked for student performance measures, it was told the university was in the process of becoming a standalone institution and was developing its own curriculum, or appointing committees, said Margaret Sullivan, the university's interim regional chancellor.

What the agency wanted was two years of data, said Sullivan.

"Much of it was there," said Sullivan, who worked for the agency for nearly a decade and has helped more than 200 universities with their accreditation. "It had just not been put in an organized format, and it was not being reported as such."

Now the university has done that. A faculty task force also has done a thorough self-examination of how students are taught, what they should be expected to know and how their performance should be measured.

USF St. Petersburg feels good over accreditation review 05/07/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 7, 2009 11:03pm]
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