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The University College of the Cayman Islands intends to gain recognition from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which can be considered the US ‘gold standard’ for university accreditation.
The accreditation process is expected to take 3 or more years to complete.
SACS is one of 6 major regional accreditation bodies in the US. Its 791 member institutions include flagship research universities such as University of Florida, Florida State University, Florida International University, Texas A&M University, and The University of Texas at Austin — as well as many other smaller schools, including international institutions.
“This is the nation building work that we have committed to doing,” UCCI President and CEO Stacy McAfee said during a kickoff event Monday at UCCI’s Sir Vassel Johnson Hall. Seeking SACS accreditation “shows our desire to adopt and reflect international standards of excellence in everything we do”.
She said during an interview with the Cayman Current, “The opportunity for this nation to build programmes right here in the Cayman Islands that might be deemed as equivalent in quality to, say, an FIU, really is a gamechanger.”
She said, “It would help create opportunities for the nation to invite in businesses that can feel confident in the workforce within the Cayman Islands.”
Interim Provost and Vice President J.D. Mosley-Matchett said, “Accreditation by SACS will once and for all dispel any doubt about the quality of education at UCCI. The result will elevate UCCI’s profile, both locally and globally.”
Mosley-Matchett noted that UCCI already has accreditation from the UK’s Accreditation Service for International Schools, Colleges and Universities; Association of Caribbean Tertiary Institutions; and United Nations Academic Impact. Also, specific UCCI programmes are recognised by International Accreditation Council for Business Education; University of West Indies’ Joint Board of Teacher Education; and the Automotive Management Institute.
However, the stringent SACS accreditation would provide additional potential benefits to students and faculty, such as aligning UCCI with schools to which Cayman’s students often look to transfer, such as FIU, Georgia State University and Alabama State University. SACS accreditation could also create opportunities for collaboration between UCCI and SACS schools, including academic research.
During an interview with the Current, Mosley-Matchett said, “Without an accreditation organisation that’s recognised by institutions that we’re trying to collaborate with, it leaves them wondering what the quality of our work would be, and who wants to collaborate with somebody that may not be up to snuff?”
She said, “By gaining SACS accreditation, there’s absolutely no question that we’re being held to high standards and that we do deliver what we say we’re going to.”
During Monday’s event — attended by faculty, staff, UCCI board members, supporters and students — participants engaged in workshops designed to define the elements necessary for UCCI to meet SACS standards and establish a framework for achieving them.
UCCI Board of Governors Chairman Mark Scotland said being accredited by SACS would validate the quality of a UCCI education and “give the government and our partners’ confidence in continuing to fund UCCI”.
The 14 principles of SACS accreditation are comprehensive and include such things as operating with integrity, the school’s mission, institutional planning, educational policies, financial resources and transparency.
“The beautiful thing is we will be deciding how to achieve those principles,” McAfee said. “There are some areas where we could definitely say, ‘Yes, we are already there’. There are other areas where some changes and evolution will happen, but it’s all in the spirit of what everybody’s already trying to accomplish.”
“It will just solidify it, and externally validate that we’re doing things in a way that is best for Cayman, but in alignment with international standards,” she said.
Areas of focus may include documenting student achievement, ensuring appropriate staffing levels and support, and encouraging ongoing professional development for faculty, including scholarship and research.
“With most institutions internationally, one of the harder areas is assessment of learning outcomes. Because learning is a very individualised process, one of the things that institutions of higher learning need to navigate is, how do we know that students are learning what we believe they’re learning?” McAfee said. “That’s not unique to UCCI, but that’s an area we’re focused on building out: How do we continuously assess learning? How do we assess success?”
Mosley-Matchett said that accreditation organisations don’t typically instruct schools on how they should do particular things. “Instead, what they’re looking for is to see what we are promising to the public that we are going to deliver from an education basis, and then they hold us accountable to make sure we deliver on our promises,” she said.
“With respect to the process of gaining accreditation, the hardest part is going through the process of documenting how we do things, why we do things they way we do, what we believe the outcome should be, and then measuring to indicate whether or not we actually get the outcomes that we have aimed for,” Mosley-Matchett said.
Saying accreditation is something she has researched and been a part of for the past 10 years at UCCI, Mosley-Matchett said achieving SACS accreditation “would be the pinnacle contribution that I can offer to UCCI’s students and alumni because it makes their degrees more valuable in the workplace, and it makes it easier for them to be able to go on to other institutions if they want to further their education”.
McAfee said, “It’s time. Over 46 years, much has been accomplished already, but this is setting the standard that will give people a real sense of confidence in that, not only are we pushing ourselves to get there, but we are externally validated. Anyone that asks can see that UCCI is in fact achieving the standards that we want here.”