SACS reaffirms NKU

Northern Kentucky University received reaffirmation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in December.

‘This is one of the most rigorous processes that a university can undergo, and we passed with flying colors,’ said President James Votruba.

But now that the reaffirmation has come and gone, the university faces perhaps the most difficult task, implementing the Quality Enhancement Plan.

The completion process for NKU took years to complete. The main document used during the process is called the Principles of Accreditation. The document requires that NKU submit a compliance certificate that shows that it is following all of the regulations set forth by SACS and the federal government. This document is reviewed by an off-site committee and makes recommendations to an on-site committee for any issues that are not in compliance. Depending on how serious the issue is, the university fixes the issue, is placed on a warning list, probation or outright denied reaffirmation. The previous Intellectual Property regulation was one such non-compliance for NKU. The new policy however, addresses this and NKU is now in a compliant status concerning IP, according to Provost Wells.

‘The concept of quality enhancement is at the heart of the Commission’s philosophy of accreditation,’ according to SACS. The Principles of Accreditation states the University should develop a QEP by ‘identifying key issues emerging from institutional assessment,’ and, the QEP ‘focuses on learning outcomes’hellip;and accomplishing the mission of the institution.’ After all of the fluff is taken away, the QEP is essentially the driving force behind the university’s major goal for the next few years. NKU developed the first draft of the QEP in 2007 after conducting interviews with students, faculty and staff. It has undergone many revisions, including recommendations made by SACS, to reach its current form. It should come as no surprise to students that the current QEP focuses on the heated topic of general education classes.

NKU currently has more than 360 courses that can be used to satisfy Gen-Ed requirements. Students now average 47 to 52 hours of Gen-Ed courses, according to Provost Wells. NKU’s new Gen-Ed system will prune away the ‘make-your-own’ style of Gen-Ed which is not coherent, a violation of SACS regulation 2.7.3, and in some cases, does not produce as much of a ‘well-rounded student as hoped for,’ according to Moynahan. Instead it will be replaced by a requirement of only 37 hours. New courses ‘will seek to enrich student learning in and outside of the classroom by imbedding active learning exercises that foster ‘deep learning’ in the general education program’ according to NKU’s QEP narrative sent to SACS.

Students will begin to notice a difference as soon as the new system is implemented in fall 2010 for all incoming freshman. NKU intends to launch a 12 course pilot program that it will use to refine the new teaching method. The catch phrase for the program could very easily become ‘show-me,’ as Moynahan alludes. NKU’s QEP narrative says that students will be ‘involved in more than just listening.’ As well, the new Gen-Ed classes ’emphasizes the development of students’ skill more than just transmitting information,’ will develop ‘higher order thinking skills’ and ‘explore their [students] own attitudes and values.’ This can be described as taking what you learn and then ‘apply it, use it, relate it to you,” Moynahan said.

The new system will also focus on interdisciplinary applications for Gen-Ed classes. Students often sit through a class and wonder, ‘how is this going to help me in my job?’ A perfect example that Vice Provost Moynahan gives is that of a journalist in a math class: ‘A journalist needs to be able to follow the money. They need to be able to read a budget and tear it apart. If you want to find the corruption, follow the money.’ Without a basic understanding of addition, subtraction or any accounting practices, a journalist will find his job much more difficult.

Even in classes that a student may not be able to readily draw such a conclusion, the ultimate goal, a sound critical analysis and inquisitive mind, will be at the core of the curriculum.

Vice Provost Moynahan offers another anecdote relating to how imperative the changes to the Gen-Ed courses are to our generation. ‘Students are coming into the university and saying to the professor show me and without any previous world experiences.’ He goes on to elaborate, ‘My mother told me that little league baseball was the worst thing that could have happened to kids. You learned more of how to solve problems and differences when it was just’ kids figuring out how to play with only four players on each side than when little league came in and said each person had to play equal time and the parents started arguing about the calls.’ This is indicative our times when more and more children are robbed of their ability to think critically. That is why we are now seeing the push to teach critical thinking in higher education.

The grading for the new system will remain the same for students. They will still receive a letter and numerical equivalency during the semester. The course will be evaluated on the percentage of students that complete the course with proficiency, according to the QEP submitted to SACS instead of the current, senior exit exam. Student work will be submitted to a committee to evaluate the course’s effectiveness and held against a rubric that is established prior to the courses implementation. This method is not without peril though. There is a chance that professors may, intentionally or not, teach to the rubric. One method to deter this is by making sure that the rubric is used only to evaluate the effectiveness of the course in the development of critical thinking skills, and not to determine whether students pass or fail. ‘Students will not do the courses and then on graduation day be told I’m sorry, you can’t graduate because you didn’t pass your Gen-Ed classes with a proficient on the Rubric even though you received an A for the course,” Moynahan said.

Moynahan stresses that we must continually assess and refine the process in order for it to be effective and have the desired effect. He admits that it is not a perfect model but ‘We are trying to be innovators for that perfect model in Higher Education.’