Putting Education Reform To The Test

Can USF Polytechnic Earn Accreditation By July?

Alfonso Architects

The plan for USF Polytechnic's Lakeland campus.

Polk County Sen. JD Alexander has made it pretty clear in the last week that it isn’t an issue of if USF Polytechnic will become the state’s 12th university, but when.

Like television’s Judge Lynn, Alexander has repeatedly said he’s ready to make that divorce happen.

But what’s unclear is if the new university could earn the accrediting crucial to attracting faculty and students eager to earn a valuable degree. So far, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is not clearing anything up.

Alexander told the Lakeland Ledger yesterday that he spoke to Belle Wheelan, SACS president, who assured him the university could earn a “dependent campus accreditation” by July.

Following a meeting some 10 days ago with Belle S. Wheelan, president of the SACS Commission on Colleges, Alexander said he learned that the polytechnic school could apply for a “dependent campus accreditation” by submitting an application in April in order for SACS to rule on the proposal by June.

“I think there is way we can make it pretty seamless,” Alexander said. “That’s what we spoke about the other day. And USF seemed to be open to those discussions and supportive of doing the necessary steps to provide all documentation to SACS by April.”

He said USF officials are also scheduled to meet with SACS in the next week or so to go over details of the plan.

But here’s Wheelan quoted by Lindsay Peterson in the Tampa Tribune on Feb. 11 — just about the time of the meeting Alexander referenced. This quote suggests that USF Poly could not earn conditional accreditation.

A top accrediting official said there’s no such thing.

“The lawmaker can make the campus independent, but it will not be accredited,” said Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges Commission on Colleges.

“Until the (SACS) board approves them as an institution, they don’t exist as far as we’re concerned.”

And that means it can’t receive federal grants or student aid. Other universities wouldn’t accept its credits.

So we called SACS to try and sort out the process. We wanted to ask a pair of questions: What type of accreditation could an independent USF Poly earn?; and could the accreditation be granted by July?

The response from SACS? Wheelan’s not commenting on USF Poly until after a Feb. 28 meeting.


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