Provisional status removed

Tamonda GriffithsNews Writer

After eight years, the university is no longer in provisional status from the U.S. Department of Education, according to a campus announcement from President Joe Bertolino.

“Basically, what that means or what it meant,said Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management Terricita Sass, “was that Southern would have to go to the U.S. Department of Education for any changes that it wanted to make in any of its academic programs.”

This designation by the DOE, Sass said, meant more oversight on the university’s processes.

According to Sass, the university was put on provisional status due to continual audit findings and “institutional capability.”

“You need to clean-up your audits, improve your processes,” said Sass, “also what they call institution capability, which is making sure you have systems in place, the right people in place and that the people are well trained.”

An audit finding, Sass said, means, “you’re not doing something right.” One example was not reporting students who were not showing up for class.

Until the third week, attendance is sent to the Registrar’s Office.

If a student does not attend those classes, the financial aid they are receiving could be discontinued. However, according to Sass, the university was sending this money and information back to the DOE late.

As a result, Sass said the university was subject to hefty fines.

“The highest fine that we received – it was between $2 and 4 million,” said Sass. “That was for multiple years.”

Sass said because those recurring fines had to be paid, money that could have gone to students had to be budgeted.

“You can’t pay the fine with federal money,” said Sass. “You can’t pay them back their own money.”

In 2016, Sass said she and the former Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Ellen Durnin met with faculty, so they understood this major component.

Faculty Senate President Maria Diamantis, said when she took over the senate the collaboration between the faculty, Sass and Durnin had already begun.

“The attendance was crucial,” said Diamantis.

The faculty was alerted of the university’s designation, however, they were not sure what they could do to help, she said.

In October 2016, Diamantis said she presented a resolution for attendance reporting, which took effect in January 2017.

According to Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Ilene Crawford it took the university about three years to resolve the status.

In late February 2019, Sass said the university was notified they no longer bared that designation.

She said this means they no longer have to go through the DOE to get approval for new programs. However, there are state and university protocols that must be adhered to.

For a program to be approved, so it can be supported by financial aid it must be filtered through the faculty, Connecticut State Colleges and Universities Board of Regents and the Office of Higher Education for approval.

While in the provisional status, Sass said the wait for approval from the DOE could have taken anywhere from six to eight months to a year, in addition to the time it took to gain state approval.

“When [DOE] notify us, only then can we then start admitting students, having students apply,” said Sass. “So, for faculty, you may have had a new program that took two years before it could be launched.”

The time now “shaved” off for the approval of programs, Sass said, is one major perk of ending the
provisional status.

Photo Credit: William Aliou

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