Lanier Technical College is seeking accreditation for another year, but this time it’s under tougher standards.
The college has been accredited under the Council on Occupational Education since 1972, and this year staff members are shooting for notice by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The SACS accreditation, which recognizes more than 80 colleges and universities across Georgia, imposes strict guidelines for how schools must operate. Lanier Tech is one of three schools seeking the prestigious "accredited" status this year after the Technical College System of Georgia charged technical colleges with seeking the designation.
"We’ve been accredited for years, but this is much more intensive with a lot more issues and criteria as far as credentialing faculty and staff," said Russell Vandiver, Lanier Tech’s interim president. "It puts us in the position where students have the opportunity to move further. We do this to have consistency throughout the state at all technical colleges with the same level of standards."
Throughout the next year, professors and administrators will look at the core requirements and explain in narratives how they comply with the standards.
"We’re closely analyzing our goals, programs and services and determining how they reflect the mission," said Joanne Tolleson, vice president of operations, who is heading up the accreditation process. "Then evaluators, from out of state but similar technical colleges, verify our self-evaluations. They do this themselves at their institution, so they understand what we do here, and I think it adds to the credibility of the review."
Lanier Tech is already "well established" for many of the standards, Vandiver said, but the SACS accreditation is just another step up.
"It’s a way to affirm to ourselves that we’re doing it right and at the top of our game," he said. "It also helps our students with transfer ability. We’re trying to make it easier for those students to have a seamless education."
The transition is especially important now, when many students start programs at Lanier Tech after layoffs or career changes.
"Students are laid off or plants close down, and we’re trying to help them with a career move, not just a job move," he said. "A lot of students want to go beyond a technical certificate and move forward, and this will help give that opportunity."
Lanier Tech began seeking the status in December 2009. An evaluator will check the paperwork and standards next summer, and Lanier Tech will hear its accreditation status when the commission meets at its biannual meeting in December 2011. The accreditation process is long and affected by the slow economy, too.
"It’s a tremendous amount of work," Vandiver said. "We have less money to operate on now than ever before and more students than ever before in our history. As we take on additional responsibility, it hurts and it’s a struggle, but everybody understands we have the opportunity to help students."
The accreditation standards, which includes more than 40 pages of requirements for programs, faculty, facilities and technology, is both broad and specific. For example, one standard requires facilities to specifically serve the institution’s programs.
Lanier Tech will open a new conference center at the Forsyth County campus in October, which features a large meeting room that accommodates more than 1,000 people and can be converted into eight smaller meeting rooms.
"As we say, it’s the perfect place for he perfect event," Tolleson said. "Like a hotel, it has a business center, and there’s a conference room with 30 laptops so businesses can do corporate training and give their company’s personal touch."