August 11. 2008
USF St. Petersburg on
President Judy Genshaft’s office in Tampa.
Accreditation Problems Hurt USF St. Pete
Story and Photos by Christine Farrell Layout and Graphics by Kristina Welch
he University of South Florida, Saint Petersburg recently received a one year probation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools which puts the school in jeopardy of loosing its accreditation. The decision came a week before the start of Summer B classes and at a time when the university was still reeling from recent budget cuts. The June 26th decision came after an initial six month warning where the administration failed to meet two of SACS many criteria 22
for accreditation, Comprehensive Standard 3.5.1 and Federal Requirement 4.1. According to SACS official website, www. sacscoc.org, 3.5.1 is a collegelevel competency, an accountability standard that measures how much students are learning while Federal Requirement 4.1 measures student achievement and if the university is properly preparing students for real-world careers. According to the University of South Florida’s website, www.usf.edu, accreditation “is voluntary and recognizes that an
institution is meeting a minimum set of standards.” Most students probably heard this information and did not understand the serious ramifications behind the education jargon. Some students might not even understand the accreditation process, why this regional campus received separate accreditation from the main Tampa Campus in the first place or why this is such a big deal is for USF, St. Pete. When asked about the accreditation problem journalism student Conner McKee said, “I don’t know much info about the situation.”
Recent articles and local news reports about the accreditation fail to explain in depth and in layman’s terms what exactly is going down at this quaint bayfront campus. Chancellor Karen A. White gave only a two word negative response, “I’m disappointed,” in the June 28, 2008 St. Petersburg Times article, “University of South Florida St. Petersburg Placed on Accreditation Probation” by, Ron Matus which didn’t shed any new light on the situation. She then put on her happy face and in the same article said, “I know that this campus will come together… and we will provide compelling evidence,” to rectify the accreditors’ concerns. One week later she sent an upbeat email to faculty, staff and students, assuring them that the problems were isolated and that they would in no way effect the quality of education at USF, St. Petersburg. Brent Stephens, a criminal justice major, said, “I got an email about the problem from the Chancellor that said don’t worry. I’m not even
thinking about it.” The lack of quality media coverage and Regional Chancellor, Karen White’s tightlipped response to the situation has some people wondering if the situation is worse than previously imagined, it is. Probationary accreditation is the worse thing that could happen to USF, St. Petersburg, a little gem of a school that is just coming into its own as a destination school and not a backup choice for students denied entry into the main branch. I, for one, chose USF, St. Petersburg over the impersonal monstrosity that is USF Tampa for graduate school, its small size, and quality faculty best suited my academic needs. Now I sit and wonder if my master’s degree will be worth little more than the piece of paper that it’s printed on. All students should be as concerned as I am. Accreditation is the most important factor for a university, it’s what separates us from the T.V. advertised colleges like Everest College and the fraudulent diploma mills where degrees are bought and sold.
Percentage of Schools Under Fire from the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Source: SACS
Along with Alabama, Florida has the highest percentage of schools in the southern region of the country whose schools received warnings or a probationary status from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Out of 817 schools, only 16, or less than 2%, received warnings or a probationary status.
Students need to understand that if USF, St. Petersburg looses accreditation they will be blocked from obtaining jobs that require a degree from an accredited institution. They will also loose their scholarships, and be blocked from applying for financial aid. Students applying to master’s degree programs, law school, medical school or other post-doctorate programs would find themselves locked out. Chancellor White conveniently left this information out of her email to students; she doesn’t want to worry you. Still not worried? Look what happened to Florida A & M University’s enrollment when they were on probation. According to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, FAMU saw their enrollment drop to a record low during the Fall 2007 school year, to 11,500 students, a 3 percent drop. FAMU’s accreditation was reinstated on June 26, 2008, the same day that USF, St. Pete was put on probation. This isn’t good news for our campus when it is relatively easy for students to transfer to the Tampa or Lakeland Campuses. It will be interesting to see with one month left until the start of the Fall 2008 Semester, how many students or informed parents, for that matter, decide to take their dollars elsewhere. But things could be worse for USF, St. Pete, FAMU was deficient in 10 of SACS criteria including management, fiancés and control of resources and still managed to fix their significant problems by the end of their probationary period. There may be hope for USF, St. Pete yet, our deficiencies deal mostly with lack of followup paperwork and bureaucratic red tape, and not with financial or management problems.
USF St. Petersburg’s Bayfront
lame for USF, St. Petersburg’s current problems goes all the way to the top, to University of South Florida, Tampa President Judy Genshaft. The July 6, 2008 Tampa Tribune article, “Accreditation Trouble Reveals Flaws of USF System” warned that if USF is so intent on building a brand image of regional campuses that are independent, they should provide consistent governance, accountability and oversight to let them stand strong 24
but not alone, there should still be some accountability to the main campus. The negative publicity in St. Petersburg cannot be helping USF Tampa’s image, no matter how much they try to distance themselves from the mess. President Judy Genshaft publically announced in the same Tampa Tribune article that she has no authority to help USF St. Petersburg back on its feet at the same time notifying the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools that the Lakeland and
Sarasota campuses would be seeking separate accreditation. What exactly does President Genshaft gain by pushing her regional campuses out from under her wing? Judy Genshaft at the Tampa Campus is like a stage mom who wants to take credit for her child’s success, saying I taught her everything she knows but wants none of the hassle if she chokes and falls on her face. Maybe all the blame cannot be laid at President Genshaft’s feet alone, no, some of it needs to be put squarely on the backs of Regional Chancellor White, St. Petersburg lawmakers and even on the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditors themselves. Did you know that USF St. Petersburg received a warning in January 2008 from the SACS Organization over failure to properly implement the same two criteria, 3.5.1. and 4.1 and yet failed to fix them? Did you also know that SACS organization originally had some concerns about these same two criteria yet still gave USF, St. Petersburg its initial accreditation in 2006? James Krest, an Environment Science Assistant Professor and member of an accreditation board at USF, the General Education Assessment Committee agreed, recently saying,
“These are problems from the initial accreditation in 2006 and the people that were suppose to take care of it, didn’t understand them. The university has now hired an outside consultant to take care of it.” -Professor James Krest
Students Weigh In on Accreditation Matt Hargreaves English Major
Brent Stephens Criminal Justice Major
Sara Palmer Journalism Major
“I didn’t even know there was a problem. What’s accreditation? Should I be worried?”
“I got an e-mail about the problem from the Chancellor that said, ‘Don’t worry.’ I’m not even thinking about it.”
“I think there is a problem. My friend had her graduation requirements changed by the education school but they never told her. She had to fight for six months to graduate on time.”
website, www.sacscoc.com, each new college wishing to apply for accreditation must pay a $10,000 application followed by a $2,500 candidacy fee. Once a school receives accreditation there are yearly dues and every time the school comes up for reaccreditation new fees are assessed. USF St. Petersburg will have to pay a probationary fee and reapplication fee next year in order to get back its good name. This amounts to little more than a legalized ponzi scheme where we are on the bottom and owe money to everyone above us in the pyramid. And Chancellor Karen A. White has to take even
more money out of the students’ cookie jar to pay for an outside consultant. Doesn’t our tuition pay for school accountants, auditors, and education gurus to keep us out of messes such as this? Why has it taken so long to figure out the problems, and fix them? I’ll tell you why because accreditors, lawmakers and college administrators don’t give a damn about the students, they just want to keep the same old bureaucracy going so they can keep getting their money, power and prestige. It’s the students who pay, financially and educationally in the end but no one cares about us anyway.
Lastly, part of the blame belongs to an unnamed greedy St. Petersburg lawmaker who has tried since 2000 to sever USF St. Petersburg’s ties with the Tampa campus. Although it failed, a compromise was reached in 2006 where USF St. Petersburg would apply for and receive separate accreditation. Something smells fishy to me. The fiasco boils down to one big money and glory grab for politicians, administrators and accrediting committees who all have their hands in the USF St. Petersburg cookie jar. According to The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools official