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Atlanta organization’s approval makes or breaks colleges

Morehouse turmoil brings unwanted scrutiny

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – Commission on Colleges can hold the power of life and death for an institution of higher learning.

Without its blessing, a school cannot receive federal student loans, grants, work-study funds, and other streams of money that help keep a college solvent, and reprimands from the powerful agency can have negative effects on students and staff.


SACS, based in Atlanta, is one of six regional organizations recognized by the United States Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation that accredits schools. Accreditation means the school has been visited and reviewed by SACS members – who evaluate everything from instructional methods to accounting standards and the professionalism of the board of trustees. Its stamp of approval guarantees students, parents and the public the school is legitimate and the education offered worthwhile.

It takes accreditation to turn on the spigot of federal financial student aid, and losing it can be a death knell. Some colleges who lose their accreditation close. Others, such as Atlanta’s Morris Brown College, which lost its accreditation in 2003, struggle to maintain a pulse.

If SACS inspectors find a school out of compliance with any sets of SACS principles, it gives the school a chance to fix them or face sanctions: probation or a warning (more serious). A sanction is not only embarrassing but can have ripple effects, such as scaring away potential students or the best instructors. Failure to fix things can bring on the nuclear option: accreditation loss.

Getting a call from SACS to ask for a talk outside of a routine visit is the equivalent of being asked to go to the principal’s office. It may not mean trouble, but you won’t know until after it’s over.

SACS accredits schools in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Latin America.

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