Positive review for UTRGV

EDINBURG — After nearly completing one year on probation, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley officials received what can be seen as a positive review after a visit by a special committee appointed by the accrediting agency, the Southern Association on Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

The committee composed of five top university officials from across the country and one SACSCOC representative visited the university the week of Oct. 16, to evaluate the steps taken by UTRGV to resolve issues that led to the university’s probationary accreditation status.

A report on the visit was sent to the university and SACSCOC’s Board of Trustees, which will evaluate the university’s status at a meeting next month.

In December 2016, the agency found violations of about 10 of its principles or standards, placing the institution’s accreditation status under probation for 12 months. Even though the university remained fully accredited, it had to provide evidence of compliance.

Some of the areas in question were integrity, acceptance of academic credit, financial aid audits and publication of accreditation status.

The issues raised by SACSCOC seemed to stem from the transition from UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville to UTRGV, a unique shift that involved dissolving two institutions to consolidate into one.

“The institution was well prepared for the special committee, and extended gracious hospitality throughout the visit,” the final report states. “They provided extensive written materials describing actions and information covering the period since the monitoring report was completed and organized by each relevant standard under review.”

The report is simply one of the items being considered by the agency’s board when deciding what will occur after the probation period. The agency has three options: removing the university from probation without an additional report, continuing probation and requesting an additional report, or removing the institution from accreditation.

There is no indication of additional information being requested throughout the report, which highlights each of the violations and steps taken by the university to address the issues.

“UTRGV understands and has owned up to its previous errors related to accreditation standards,” the 24-page report states. “The president and his team took the lead in rapidly and effectively communicating the accurate accreditation status of UTRGV to each stakeholder group.”

One of the major issues arose from an agreement between UTB and Texas Southmost College to share accreditation, which prevented the dissolution of UTB for some time. Miscommunication linked to this portion of the process was at the core of the violations, according to documents obtained by The Monitor.

One of the main issues appeared to be that the agency did not see the transition as involving UTB, UTPA and UTRGV, but as a transition of four institutions also involving TSC.

The special committee report, however, appears to favor how the university dealt with issues that arose as TSC struggled to gain its own accreditation and the final dissolution of UTB, which occurred in December 2015.

“The transition had significant consequences for some UTB-TSC students,” the report states. “Nonetheless, once the institution began addressing its initial error of treating a former UTB-TSC student as legacy UTRGV students instead of classifying them as transfer students, the institution operated in good faith, both in terms of notifying students of the issue and providing additional coursework with tuition waivers.”

UTRGV President Guy Bailey said he was content with the report, but was cautious to draw conclusions from it, which will be considered alongside a monitoring report previously filed by the university. The monitoring report highlights the steps to be taken to address each error.

He and his team are scheduled to attend the agency’s board meeting in December.

“The final decision is in the hands of the board,” he said. “I think they recognize that we’ve addressed all of the issues in last year’s audit.”