Northern Kentucky University soon faces a test.

NKU is up for reaffirmation this December as an accredited university by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

As an accredited university, this means NKU adheres to a set of standards to improve education and ensures that the courses taken here will transfer to another college or university. It is a required test of higher-learning institutions that offer state and/or federal financial aid to students.

SACS is the official accrediting agency for higher education institutions in 11 southeastern states in the U.S. and also in Latin America. It is the mission of SACS to ensure educational practices of the highest quality are followed by the colleges and universities it accredits.

‘Basically what they have done is and what they continue to do on an annual basis is say,’ ‘Alright, what’s the bar?” What’s the standard for quality that we will all accept?” said J. Patrick Moynahan, Vice Provost and director of the SACS Reaffirmation Process.’ ‘

By being an accredited university, NKU is in agreement to submit its policies and operations to intermittent review by writing reports, self-assessment of practices and procedures, and being observed by a campus review committee. Only those institutions which pass these types of evaluation can be reaccredited or reaffirmed as an accredited school. However, it is not a simple evaluation. Those involved in working towards NKU’s reaffirmation have been working on it since 2006.

‘The process takes upwards of three years,’ Moynahan said. ‘We have been working on our materials and our response for it for years.”

In his office, Moynahan has a filing cabinet filled with boxes of documentation on university policies, faculty credentials, and syllabi for all 3,200 courses for the past three years. After collecting and transferring this information online and storing it, an off-site committee comes in and reviews every piece of documentation.

Accreditation also sets a standard for instructors and professors to adhere to.

‘In simplest terms, it’s to assure to parents, to students, to employers, and to the federal government, that we are indeed offering a quality education,’ Moynahan said.

In addition to setting standards and making sure practices and procedures are followed by NKU, the campus review committee also makes recommendations to the university if they see room for growth or improvement in the way students are educated.

‘There are always things to work on. We’d like to believe we’re perfect, but no one is,’ Moynahan said.

One of the things the committee recommended last year for NKU was to work on was the general education requirements. It was recommended that there be a better system to determine whether or not students were learning the subject matter should be in place. The senior survey required of all graduates simply was not giving an accurate read on what students were actually learning.

With SACS’ being part of the reason behind it, there is now a proposal to change the way general education classes are taught. The Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) asks colleges and universities where they would like to improve. The QEP committee has been working since 2006 on a plan to develop changes for the way students learn. In discussing ideas with faculty, staff, students and the community, the QEP made the decision to give students more control over the way they learn – make the learning more active.

‘Active learning means engagement in a class beyond just sitting there and listening,” Moynahan said.