ORANGEBURG - Fresh from a successful effort to get off the warning list of its accrediting association, S.C. State University is preparing for its 10-year accreditation renewal from that same organization, university president George Cooper said during a meeting with reporters Wednesday.
School officials have submitted documents to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools detailing the qualifications of its faculty, describing its financial situation and outlining its record on student retention and graduation.
In March, SACS representatives will tour the Orangeburg campus, and, in December, let S.C. State know whether its accreditation will be reaffirmed.
Cooper, who attended a SACS conference in Atlanta on Tuesday, said he is confident the process will go smoothly.
"They have standards," Cooper said of the accrediting association. "We intend to adhere to those standards. We don't want to be outside of the mainstream in terms of our peer institutions when it comes to accreditation."
Last year, SACS placed S.C. State on its warning list because of concerns it had about the school's finances and its governance.
Being placed on the warning list sparked concerns the university had actually lost its accreditation.
That never was the case.
"That was something that was difficult to explain," Cooper said. "As I meet with parents on campus, I address that."
The school's board of trustees clarified the role of its president on a pair of voice votes in October. And Tuesday, SACS officials said S.C. State would be removed from the warning list, a boost to a school that has struggled to deal with declining state financial support and criticism that board members had too much sway in carrying out policy.
"This is good to hear," U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, a powerful alum who had been unhappy with the direction of the schoolsaid of the SACS decision. "I hope the board will now focus on policy making and leave administering those policies up to the president and his administration."
SACS president Belle Wheelan said S.C. State took an important step forward in being removed from the warning list.
"Removing (the) warning means that the "cloud" over their institution has now been removed because they have complied with all of our principles of accreditation," Wheelan said. "They never lost accreditation. There were just some things that they hadn't done that made it necessary to monitor them."
Wheelan said SACS must step in when it suspects a university is not being managed up to the association's standards.
"When institutions don't comply with all of our principles, we can't assure the general public that they are doing as well as they should for the public to feel good about them," she said. "Now that (S.C. State has) been removed from sanction, there are no questions about their effectiveness remaining."
Outlining in broad terms what S.C. State officials will focus on in the upcoming year, Cooper said the university's financial situation remains difficult.
Recruitment and retention will be amplified, Cooper said. The university also will focus on appealing to students attending two-year colleges in South Carolina with the goal of having them eventually enroll at S.C. State.
To ease the school's tight budget, Cooper said he will appeal to businesses across the state.
"We are located in Orangeburg, but we're a state university," he said.
State funding is an important part of the university's financial picture, and Cooper said he plans to push there, too.
"I will be spending a lot more time engaging with the Legislature," he said. "Being an optimist, I do believe there's light at the end of the tunnel."