A process years in the making - and long-sought by students and alumni - has taken a step closer toward reality for Bob Jones University.
The Board of Trustees of the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC) announced Thursday that it had granted BJU initial candidacy status for regional accreditation, said Pamela Cravey, SACSCOC spokeswoman.
The commission made its decision after a candidacy committee was authorized in July 2015 and visited the campus in January 2016 to evaluate BJU’s accreditation qualifications.
BJU’s Board of Trustees voted in December 2011 to pursue regional accreditation, reversing course on a stance it had held for its first 84 years. The decision came in the midst of declining enrollment and after complaints from some alumni who found difficulty getting into graduate schools or obtaining professional certifications in some states.
The next steps in the accreditation process includes submitting documents in August certifying its compliance with SACSCOC principles followed by a campus visit from an accreditation committee.
“We are pleased to have achieved another key milestone in the multi-step, multi-year process of seeking regional accreditation,” BJU President Steve Pettit said in a statement. “Regional accreditation will allow us to serve our students and alumni more effectively while enhancing the value of a BJU education.”
The candidacy status is awarded for four years with an accreditation committee site visit scheduled within the first two years. The SACSCOC Board would then review the candidacy status to decide whether BJU is qualified for accreditation.
Most institutions receive accreditation within the first two years. But if not approved after the first site visit, a second visit would be scheduled within the four-year candidacy timeframe.
Regional accreditation would provide more accountability for the university and recognition of its curriculum and faculty within the higher education community, the university said. It would also provide more confidence to parents of prospective students of the education offered to students, the university said.
It chose to seek accreditation through SACSCOC, the accreditation agency for colleges and universities in the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia as well as Latin America and other international sites.
BJU is seeking accreditation for its undergraduate and graduate degree programs as well as its seminary, said Randy Page, university spokesman.
The university had shunned secular accreditation – choosing 10 years ago to seek national accreditation through a religious accreditation agency instead – but after SACSCOC changed some of its policies, trimmed requirements from several hundred down to about 70 and developed an approach that institutions should comply with their own mission, BJU changed its mind.
The university did not have to make any changes to its curriculum or rules for student, faculty or staff behavior as part of its application process, Page said. It also wouldn’t have to modify its Bible-based policies, its hiring practices or its biblical worldview, the university said.
“The application and supporting documentation, obviously, were multiple thousands of pages that were submitted and reviewed by SACSCOC staff,” Page said.
Candidacy status indicated the university had demonstrated compliance with the application requirements and that compliance had been reviewed through the site visit, Page said.
“Achieving candidacy status has required the combined efforts of the University’s faculty and staff,” Pettit said. “I greatly appreciate their diligent efforts over several years to get us to the milestone we celebrate today.”
Gary Weier, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said accreditation candidacy “indicates processes are in place to sustain academic program quality and achieve our institutional goals while fulfilling our mission of helping students develop Christ-like character.”
Ten years ago, the university received national accreditation by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS) based in Forest, Virginia, which is approved by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). It will continue to hold that accreditation.
But regional accreditation is more widely accepted as the standard by graduate schools, companies and government agencies that may require a regionally accredited degree for employment, Page said.
The university will only be recognized as regionally accredited once it has achieved full accreditation, Page said.
Degrees considered by SACS to be accredited are ones given during the calendar year an institution receives accreditation, he said. The process does not retroactively grant recognition to degrees earned by alumni prior to an institution receiving full accreditation status, according to SACSCOC policy.