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Substantive Changes

Substantive Change - Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why is SACS interested in changes that are occurring at institutions that are already accredited?

The Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accredits an entire institution, including all of its programs and services, wherever they are located or however they are delivered.  The Commission is interested in significant changes that are occurring at member institutions because the scope of accreditation extends to the total college or university.  Significant changes are illustrated in the Commission’s substantive change policy.

2. Please give examples of some of the most common substantive changes.

The most common substantive changes reported are new off-campus sites where 50% or more of the credits in a program are offered; significant growth in distance education, including 50% or more of an educational program delivered via technology-based instruction; and the addition of new site-based programs that are significantly different from current offerings.

3. How do we notify the Commission of a possible substantive change?

Typically, a letter is sent from the president of the institution to Dr. Belle Wheelan, President, Commission on Colleges, 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, GA 30033, at least 6 months prior to implementation (12 months advance notification is requested for changes in degree level).  The letter should be as descriptive as possible concerning the proposed change, anticipated start date, address of the new site, etc.

4. Why can’t I send the notification and prospectus by e-mail?

We do not accept email substantive change submissions for two reasons:

1) the authenticity of the communication may not be assured; and 2) documents submitted as hard copy addressed to Dr. Belle Wheelan are logged in and tracked so that you are assured of a timely, authoritative response.

5. A local business has asked us to offer the MBA degree at their facility for a specific target audience.  Is this considered a substantive change?

Yes, the guidelines are the same whether a single cohort or a continuous program will be offered.  When an institution establishes an off-campus site at which 50% or more of the credits in a program can be obtained, a prospectus should be submitted 3 months prior to the start date. 

6. We started offering a few online courses several years ago.  Now it appears that students can complete a majority of their program online although that was not intended when we started.  Do we have to report this?

Yes, when an institution initiates a program leading to a degree, diploma, or certificate in which 50% or more of the credits can be obtained by some form of distance learning, the institution should notify the Commission of this development and submit a prospectus for approval.  Subsequent programs in distance education do not need to be reported unless they represent significant departures from previously approved programs or new modes of delivery.

7. At the present time, we offer a master’s degree in political science.  Do we need to notify SACS if we plan to begin a doctorate in political science?  Our institution has doctoral degrees in education and religion. 

Yes, the doctorate in political science is considered significantly different from the existing doctoral degrees in education and religion.  The institution should notify the COC at least 6 months before starting the program and submit a prospectus to justify the new doctoral program at least 3 months prior to implementation.

8. What is the difference between a prospectus and an application?

An application supports a request to move to a new degree level (i.e., associate to baccalaureate, baccalaureate to masters, masters to doctorate).  It consists of two parts: a description of the proposed new courses or programs, and a description of the institution’s ongoing compliance with the Principles of Accreditation: Foundations for Quality Enhancement Applications are reviewed by the Board of Trustees; they should be submitted by April 15 for review in June, or by October 1 for review in December. A prospectus is required for approval of all other substantive changes.  It provides a description of the proposed change and evidence that the institution has the resources to support the proposed program(s).  A prospectus should be submitted at least 3 months before the starting date of the proposed change. 

9. What must we do if our institution has implemented programs that should have been reported?

An institution that has implemented programs that should have been reported must notify the President of the Commission immediately in writing concerning the unreported substantive changes.  Please see the Commission’s Substantive Change Policy

10. Is a team visit required for most substantive changes?

An on-site committee visit is required within 6 months after initiation of  for the following changes:  (a) the initiation of an off-campus site at which a student can earn 50% or more of the credits in an educational program (Note: If an institution has more than 3 approved off-campus sites and has demonstrated effective oversight of off-campus locations, a visit may be delayed until the 5th year of the decennial review); (b) the initiation of a branch campus; (c) the initiation of a change in governance or ownership; (d) the initiation of a merger or consolidation; and (e) the initiation of courses or degrees at a more advanced level.  Other changes may require a visit if a more in-depth evaluation beyond the prospectus appears to be warranted. 

11. Our college is interested in reconfiguring existing courses in an approved program to create a new degree.  Is this considered substantive to SACS?

In most cases, the re-packaging of existing courses does not constitute a substantive change.

12. Do we need to report collaborative programs with foreign institutions or consortia with institutions in our system?

If the institution is establishing a contractual agreement with another institution to offer credit instruction leading to a diploma, certificate or degree, a letter of notification should be sent to the Commission as well as signed copy of the written agreement. 

For dual degrees, joint degrees or double degrees, please see Agreements Involving Joint and Dual Academic Awards .

13. Do new continuing education programs need to be reported?

If these new programs involve credit instruction, they should be reported in keeping with the substantive change policy.  Non-credit programs that do not qualify for federal aid do not constitute substantive changes. 


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