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Mississippi College Leaders Begin Work to Reaffirm Accreditation

Associate Provost Debbie Norris
Associate Provost Debbie Norris

Mississippi College leaders are working to reaffirm the university’s accreditation. It’s part of an initiative gearing up this summer on the Clinton campus and staying on track through 2023.

It’s one of many challenges on the plate of MC officials in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also on the minds of higher education officials at institutions across the USA.

The worldwide health emergency prompted accreditation leaders nationwide to permit more flexibility in their procedures. These officials evaluate the quality of online instruction, traditional classes, finances and overall academic quality at thousands of institutions. Gaining accreditation and maintaining it shows that schools offer quality programs to millions of students.

As Mississippi College begins the university’s 195th academic year in August, associate provost Debbie Norris and her team are pressing ahead with their hard work. The MC officials seek to reaffirm the institution’s accreditation. The decision ultimately rests with officials from the South’s premier accreditation agency.

MC’s leadership team assigned to the task includes President Blake Thompson, Provost and Executive Vice President Keith Elder, and Chief Financial Officer Laura Jackson. Other members are Jonathan Randle, dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences along with Dr. Norris. Dr. Randle will lead the university’s Quality Enhancement Plan.

A Mississippi College graduate, Dr. Norris holds other duties as the university’s Graduate School dean and longtime vice president for planning and assessment. She’s considered MC’s leading expert on every step of the complex process to reaffirm the university’s accreditation.

The MC leadership team is due to travel to Nashville, Tennessee for orientation at the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ annual conference of its Commission on Colleges. The meetings are set for December 5-8.

There are other important dates on their calendar. Mississippi College leaders will conduct a university self-study in 2021-2022. Their report is due in September 2022. A larger group of faculty, staff and students will be involved in the study. A SACS commission team is due to visit Mississippi College in Spring 2023.

Mississippi College was first accredited by the Georgia-based Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1922. Led by President Belle Wheelan, the SACS Commission on Colleges oversees accreditation for schools in 11 Southern states, including Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, Florida and Texas. Other states are Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

SACS officials granted permission to institutions in the region to switch to online classes for the bulk of its instruction in the Spring due to the coronavirus outbreak, Norris noted.

Mississippi College, like many institutions in the region, was allowed to do so from March 23 through December 31, 2020. MC students rapidly switched to a full menu of online classes during the final two months of the Spring semester. Many are taking online classes this summer. MC’s nearly 5,000 students are due to return for traditional classes starting August 17.

Steps to carry out procedures look different for MC leaders as the summer begins. The format of meetings will change due to social distancing. “There are more Zoom meetings” Norris said.

That’s true for SACS commission members as well. The group based near Atlanta is set for a Zoom virtual board meeting from August 31-September 3.

Many Spring visits planned on campuses in the South by SACS Commission on Colleges leaders were rescheduled as coronavirus cases surged.

Colleges reopen across the nation in August with temperature checks, hand sanitizer stations, reduced class sizes, facial masks and other health measures in place on campuses.