Still Under Review

Even though Northern Kentucky University’s accreditation has been recently reaffirmed for the next 10 years, the university remains under pressure to ensure it is meeting national standards. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which is the agency responsible for accreditation, is continuing to monitor the university’s progress — as it does will all accredited universities. SACS requires NKU to file a report on its progress this month. And the university is quickly responding to recommendations made by the accrediting body that must be implemented within the next two years.

In a letter to NKU President James Votruba, SACS made five recommendations to the university relating to the new Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership, the Intellectual Property Policy, the General Education Program and the credentials of faculty in the Sports Business and Nursing programs.

Vice Provost J. Patrick Moynahan said that NKU will answer all the recommendations by the deadline established by SACS, but some of these changes will be easier than others.

Increasing the credentials of faculty

The SACS standard is that “at least 25 percent of the discipline course hours in each major at a baccalaureate level are taught by faculty members holding the terminal degree,” meaning the highest degree in the field, which is typically a Ph.D. Now the two academic programs not meeting that standard are changing course.

In sports business, two new faculty members have been hired with terminal degrees, according to Sports Business Director Tom Gamble. One faculty member began this semester, and another will begin in the fall.

Moynahan said the call demanding additional faculty with terminal degrees in nursing was “disappointing” given a national shortage of nursing faculty, a concern that was echoed by the Nursing department.

“There is a national shortage of nursing faculty with doctorate degrees. As with most health professions, it is more lucrative financially to work in nonacademic settings. We do have several faculty in the College that are currently pursing doctoral degrees however,” said Carrie McCoy, chair of the Department of Nursing. The number of nurses in the United States who have a doctorate is less than one percent of the overall total number of nurses.

Denise Robinson, dean of the College of Health Professions, said that more that 25.7 percent of the full-time nursing faculty have terminal degrees. However, when you take into consideration the part-time faculty in any semester, it is approximately 8.5 percent.
Still, Robinson said there is a plan in place to enhance the current faculty and create new faculty positions for candidates with terminal degrees.

“We have four faculty who are currently in school completing their doctoral degrees,” Robinson shared. “Two of our faculty left to work on their degrees, as well. We are supporting those faculty who are working on their degrees.

“We are utilizing a number of strategies to increase the number of terminally prepared nursing faculty, but it will not be an overnight fix. We are exploring all factors to address this shortage. With all the options I have discussed such as growing our own and the addition of (the Doctorate in Nursing Practice Program and possibly a Doctorate of Education Program), we will make inroads into getting the number of terminally degreed nursing faculty increased.”

Potential faculty with terminal degrees will often be drawn to a graduate program rather than an undergraduate program, but will work with both after their employment.

“Adding the Doctorate in Nursing Program to NKU will provide another mechanism to increase the number of nurses with a doctorate. The College of Health Professions is also working with the College of Education and Social Work in adding a track for nursing education,” Robinson said.

Demonstrating the effectiveness of NKU’s newest doctoral program

The Doctorate in Educational Leadership is a relatively new program to the university which began in the fall of 2008. As such, little data was available to assess the program at the time of the August site visit in 2009; but, SACS is requiring the university to update it on evidence indicating students are making improvement through the program within two years.

Updating the Intellectual Property Policy

At the time of the August 2009 site visit, NKU was finalizing its revisions to the Intellectual Property Policy. According to Moynahan, because that process had not yet finished, SACS is requiring an update reflecting the new policy changes.

The university’s governing board has passed and implemented a new Intellectual Property Policy, albeit with opposition from some students concerned that assigned works could be published without their knowledge or consent. The recently-passed policy does meet SACS standards, according to Moynahan.

Centralizing the Monitoring Process and Demonstrating Competency of Graduates

NKU has also adopted new software called WEAVE which is designed to help the university control and monitor standards throughout the university to ensure students are making improvements throughout their college careers. The centralized system allows NKU to pool and collect certain data. SACS is requiring NKU to demonstrate this new software to effectively monitor student progress and accreditation standards. In the past, this system was based on internal and decentralized assessments, and Moynahan said this software moves NKU in the right direction as SACS continues to keep its eye on all its member institutions.

Lastly, the letter says that there is “no evidence that college-level general education competencies are currently being met.” through the general education program. And, it says that the proposed changes to the general education requirements also require a close eye of scrutiny. As such, it has required NKU to “demonstrate the extent to which graduates achieve the college-level competencies.” This means that NKU must develop ways to demonstrate that the expected general skills of a university graduate are being taught and improved upon throughout the student’s education, including through the new WEAVE system. It does not imply, however, that they currently are not, but rather, that NKU must provide a method of demonstrating this beyond the use of grades alone.

Accreditation secure and no public censure

Moynahan pointed out that the most important line in the SACS letter to NKU was: “Your institution’s next reaffirmation will take place in 2019 unless otherwise notified,” which indicates the university has been reaccredited and is not facing a threat to its accreditation prior to its next regularly scheduled assessment.

In addition, SACS had the option to publicly sanction the university if it did not meet acceptable standards, but this letter was a private list of recommendations that every institution receives after review.

The Student Government Association did not respond to requests for comment on the SACS letter’s recommendations.

Story by Jesse Call