AC receives rare endorsement from on-site accreditation team

For the first time in its history, Amarillo College completed the crucial first step in its reaffirmation of accreditation by receiving what amounts to a perfect score for its on-site visit: zero recommendations for compliance with the 72 standards under review.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) completed its on-site visit to AC on Sept. 22. Along with offering zero recommendations, the SACSCOC committee fully endorsed the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), which is the cornerstone of AC’s reaccreditation efforts.

“I’m proud of our entire team, whose commitment to success clearly paid off in a huge way,” AC President Russell Lowery-Hart said. “I’ve never worked at an institution, or participated in an accreditation visit to another school, where there were zero recommendations.

“This speaks to the quality of our institution and the people who work here.”

To maintain national accreditation through SACSCOC, colleges and universities undergo an intensive reaccreditation evaluation every 10 years. A nine-member team visited AC for an in-depth examination of all aspects of the College

That few emerge from these on-site visits with zero recommendations was underscored by SACSCOC Committee Chair Dan Smith, who noted that this was his first time serving as an accreditor that he was able to utter the words “no recommendations.”

Tina Babb, AC’s director of institutional effectiveness, has spearheaded AC’s reaccreditation efforts for the past three years. Beginning in February of 2020, Babb pulled together representatives of every division and department at the College to begin the painstaking effort of compiling a preliminary SACSCOC compliance report that precedes the on-site visit.

“What impressed me most about our team at Amarillo College was how they responded to the challenge,” Babb said. “They weren’t in it just to check to boxes and move on to something else; they were truly motivated to use this process to make actual institutional improvements.

“AC rallied around the reaccreditation process to make the College better for the students and community we serve, and that’s how you come away with zero recommendations for the first time in the history of our school.”

A major piece of SACSCOC reaccreditation revolves around the Quality Enhancement Plan, which is mandatory. The College’s QEP is called Smart Start to Finish, a college-wide retention effort focused on student engagement and connectedness. It incorporates a guided-pathways framework that provides intentional supports from start to finish – from the time potential students start with the College in the pre-enrollment phase until they graduate or transfer from AC.

Retention is the overarching goal of the QEP, and the goal is to increase first-time-in-college fall-to-fall student retention to 75% by 2025.

Now that the on-site visit has concluded, AC anticipates receiving official reaffirmation of accreditation from SACSCOC sometime in the summer of 2023, Babb said.