SOU due for 10-year check up

Southern Oregon University will welcome an accreditation team to campus Wednesday morning, for an evaluation of the school that happens once every 10 years.

The team from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities consists of 10 academics from various western universities that will review the self studies SOU conducted over the past year and a half for nine different standards. Regional accreditation qualifies schools to receive federal funds that support teaching, research and financial aid.

"Fundamentally I think that we fulfill the standards that are set forth," said Associate Provost Paul Steinle, who served as a liaison to the accreditation team.

SOU began the self studies focusing on the 2005-2006 school year, but because so many changes were implemented, such as the combination of three schools into the new College of Arts and Sciences, the university added a lengthy addendum explaining the reorganization.

"It's a little bit tougher for this team because they have to look at the past and also the new," Steinle said. "I don't think there's any fundamental concern. We're always interested in what they have to say and every time there's one of these, there's always some evaluation that comes out of it that's useful to us."

The team will evaluate the school in nine areas, including institutional mission and goals, educational program, students, faculty, library and information resources, governance and administration, finance, physical resources and institutional integrity. The accreditation review is designed to ensure educational quality and university improvement.

"This is serious stuff, and it's taken very seriously by the people that do the review and by faculty and staff," said interim Vice President of Finance and Administration Craig Morris, who led the internal study of finances.

A large part his work addressed the $3.7 million budget shortfall SOU went through last year.

"They'll walk away with a strong sense that, yes, we had some financial problems, but that we've dealt with them, and that we have a plan for success," he said.

Standard two, which examines educational program and its effectiveness, required the most internal analysis, Steinle said. The standard covers all degree programs, continuing education programs, study abroad programs and assessments and planning associated with those areas.

Prof. Charles Lane, who led the internal study of academic standards, said the increasing emphasis on accountability and assessment in education by the federal government could play a major role in the academic portion of the assessment, although it is not unique to SOU.

"I don't think they'll find us completely out of line relative to schools like us, but they will find stuff for us to work on, and frankly, that's appreciated," he said. "You can always be doing a better job."

The accreditation team will present their preliminary findings at 10 a.m. Friday in the Rogue River Room.

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