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New options at Ogeechee Tech
Regional accreditation gives OTC students more flexibility
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Ogeechee Technical College instructor Nick DeBonis, right, teaches a class in services marketing to students in the associate of arts marketing program. Credits for classes such as this one can now be transferred to 4-year universities.

      For Ogeechee Technical College’s students — and its most recent graduates — the college’s achievement of full regional accreditation will open more options for continuing their education at four-year colleges and universities.
        Lacy McLaurin, 20, from Rincon, is on track to complete courses for her associate degree in hotel, restaurant and tourism management in August. Employability is not in doubt, since her internship has her working full-time as cultural concierge and membership relations director at Savannah Quarters Country Club in Pooler, a job she plans to keep after graduation.
        But she followed Ogeechee Tech’s progress toward regional accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, or SACSCOC, with interest.
        “I think it’s a great opportunity for all of the students at Ogeechee Tech,” McLaurin said. “Now you have a chance to better your education. You don’t have to settle for an associate’s degree. You can go for a four-year degree, you can go for your bachelor’s, or you could go for your master’s if you wanted to.”
        Since her OTC degree has landed McLaurin a job she likes, that is not something she plans to do right away.
        “But it’s good to know I have the option now,” she said. “I don’t have to completely start over. All my (courses) will transfer if I wanted to go and complete a bachelor’s degree.”

Regional vs. national
        Ogeechee Tech has been accredited by the Council on Occupational Education, which accredits technical colleges nationwide, since 1992. But among colleges, regional accreditations generally carry more weight than national ones.  SACSCOC accredits most academic colleges and universities in the Southeast, such as Georgia Southern University, East Georgia State College, Savannah State University and the University of Georgia.
        Most Technical College System of Georgia schools, such as Ogeechee Tech, are now SACSCOC accredited as well. Without the regional accreditation, Ogeechee Tech’s courses usually were not accepted for credit at regionally accredited colleges and universities, even those in the University System of Georgia.
        Now, some OTC courses will transfer, provided that they closely match courses at the receiving college or university and are needed for the student’s program of study.
        Although Tom Elrod, 29, from Glennville, received his OTC associate degree as a computer networking specialist in May and the accreditation was not awarded until June, he, too, is now a graduate of a SACS-accredited college. The accreditation is retroactive to Jan. 1.
        “I’ve previously been enrolled at Georgia Southern, a while back, and coming here it made it a lot easier transferring classes down from them, but now with being SACS accredited, I think it would be on the same level of programs,” he said.
        Elrod, married and the father of a 3-year-old, previously operated a painting business. He also earned a picture archiving and communication systems diploma, awarded by OTC in December. Now employed part-time in the college’s information technology department, he is currently looking for full-time work rather than more schooling, but like McLaurin, said he likes having the option.

Core courses
        Not all class credits will transfer. Acceptance remains up to the receiving institution. The University System and the Technical College System have a standing agreement that allows the transfer of 27 courses between their schools. However, in the absence of SACSCOC accreditation, even these courses generally were not accepted, OTC President Dr. Dawn Cartee said. Now they should be.
        The list includes courses in American government, American literature, art appreciation, biology, calculus and precalculus, chemistry, college algebra, economics, English composition, U.S. and world history, introduction to humanities, physics, math modeling, sociology, statistics, principles of economics and public speaking. Most are core classes, needed in a certain number and variety to fill basic college requirements regardless of the student’s eventual major.
        Ogeechee Tech offers some of these courses now, but is adding more as electives and could offer all of them in the future, Cartee said. Offering up to two years of transferable core classes is seen as a path to a new phase of enrollment growth.
        “We would hope so,” she said. “There are students now that for whatever reason are not admitted into Georgia Southern on their first try, and we are an option to allowing them to continue that aspiration of receiving a four-year degree. They can come here and take two years of core classes. …We’re a viable, vital option to doing that and very cost-effective.”
        Beyond those 27 courses, Cartee is now pursuing articulation agreements with University System schools that will allow entire associate degree programs at Ogeechee Tech to count toward bachelor’s degrees. These will apply to selected programs, which have yet to be announced.

Improving quality
        However, credit transfer was not the first thing Cartee mentioned when asked why the new accreditation is important.
        “The whole purpose for seeking regional accreditation for us was it’s a quality initiative,” she said. “In the world of accreditation it all revolves around institutional effectiveness, and it’s not something you can do overnight. It’s a process, and it involves all aspects of the college.”
        Achieving the accreditation was part of Cartee’s job assignment when she returned to Ogeechee Tech as its president seven years ago.
        To prepare for its application and the visits by SACSCOC representatives, the staff and faculty had to document many different aspects of the college and show that feedback was being applied to make improvements.
        In addition to a continuous improvement approach to teaching, the college had to demonstrate that its buildings and resources, such as those in the library, were more than adequate. Financial strength was gauged through three years of clean audits, and everything else had to be demonstrated for three years.
         “It was tough. It was not an easy process,” she said. “This faculty and staff, they’ve been in the trenches for the last seven years, and I’m proud of them.”
        Instructors documented how they measured students’ progress on specific objectives and then used the data to strengthen their teaching methods, radiologic technology instructor Matt Dunn said.
        “The main thing SACS wanted to know is that we were constantly striving for improvement, the betterment of our students, ensuring that educational goals were delivered and that we could measure that and actually quantify it,” he said.
        Radiologic technology is one of several OTC programs that already have their own accreditation.
        The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology accreditation is vital for graduates going directly into jobs, Dunn explained. But his own experience suggests how the SACS accreditation should help other students. A 1999 graduate of the OTC program, he still had to take core courses when he went on to Emory University.
        “It also says to schools like Georgia Southern and East Georgia College that neighbor us here, or even farther out like the University of Georgia and so on, that we are holding ourselves to the same standards that those schools are,” Dunn said.
        Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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