UTRGV expects accreditation site visit this week

EDINBURG — Preparations nearly eight months in the making are culminating this week with a visit by the national accrediting agency Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

While the university remains fully accredited, the agency, known as SACSCOC, placed the university on a12-month probation in December 2016 after raising concerns with the transition from UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville to UTRGV, which opened its doors Aug. 31, 2015.

The transition included dissolving the two institutions to create UTRGV, a process unfamiliar to many, including SACSCOC, leading to what appeared to be a series of misunderstandings and the violation of what they said were 10 of the agency’s standards.

Most of these violations appeared to stem from miscommunications as documents showing communication between the two institutions, UTRGV and SACSCOC, gave light to concerns and issues found over a partnership accreditation between UTB and Texas Southmost College, which included shared accreditation, as well as other issues with financial aid and consultation requirements before the overall change.

“There are a number of issues of significant concern with how the institution addressed continuous institutional operations,” a letter by SACSCOC states. “They directly relate to the decisions around the transition of University of Texas Brownsville (UTB) students, faculty, staff, and operations from the former University of Texas Brownsville- Texas Southmost College (UTB-TSC) institution to UTRGV.”

Even though these were issues brought upon by a never-before-seen transition, UTRGV President Guy Bailey said these were nonetheless needed to be corrected to ensure the university is taken off probation and to fully move on.

“We decided that we would take responsibility for everything,” Bailey said. “We’re correcting everything that SACS told us and then we are putting processes in place to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. It doesn’t matter whether you disagree or agree, you have to take responsibility, take corrective action and ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

University officials submitted a report to SACSCOC detailing the steps taken or planned to address the violations. In attempts to be better prepared for this week’s visit, Bailey also put together a mock visit, which took place at the beginning of October and included five consultants, all foreign to UTRGV but well versed with other Texas universities, to mirror the SACSCOC team.

“Outside eyes always bring a fresh perspective,” Bailey said. “Two people had been presidents at universities, one served on the SACS board; we had a registrar from a university come. … All of these people have Texas experience. … We said to them, ‘Be as hard on us as you can.’”

The university wasn’t yet at liberty to disclose the identity of the five visitors, but Bailey said all of their recommendations and feedback was positive and useful. The SACS visiting team will consist of out-of-state experts, he said, who might have different viewpoints, but he said they have no reason to believe they won’t find the current progress.

The SACSCOC team is scheduled to arrive Tuesday and conclude the visit by Thursday or Friday. The university will then await a report by the accrediting agency on their current standing or new requirements to exit the probation period.

“We’ve been preparing and dealing with all of the issues that SACS pointed out since February,” Bailey said. “And we started off with meetings with SACS staff, we’ve been in close contact. We’ve assumed ownerships of everything that they’ve pointed out.”