Commission grants accreditation candidacy to GGC

LAWRENCEVILLE - Georgia Gwinnett College has achieved a milestone on its path to accreditation, officials announced Thursday.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges on Thursday granted candidacy status toward accreditation of the state's newest four-year institution, said Belle Wheelan, president of the SACS Commission.

Wheelan said Georgia Gwinnett College is on its way to "full-fledged membership" as an accredited institution.

"They've worked very hard in a very short amount of time to get to this point," Wheelan said. "We're pleased for them and proud of them."

Cathy Hakes, Georgia Gwinnett's director of accreditation and certification, said being granted candidacy status means the college has met critical standards in several areas.

"Areas such as faculty qualifications, academic programs, financial resources, facilities and library resources were all accepted as compliant under SACS published guidelines, validating the tremendous efforts of faculty and staff over the last two years," Hakes said in a news release.

The standard accreditation process consists of three steps: application, candidacy and accreditation. Thousands of pages of documentation and records are provided to the accrediting agency, which reviews them and sends a team to the campus to verify the submitted materials, assess facilities and interview faculty, staff and students.

Georgia Gwinnett College submitted its application for candidacy on Oct. 1, and the SACS Commission in December authorized a candidacy visit. A six-member committee visited the Lawrenceville campus from March 31 to April 2.

Once a school is granted candidacy, the institution has up to four years to become accredited. Georgia Gwinnett will proceed in its pursuit of membership with SACS during the next 18 to 24 months, the news release states.

Richard Tucker, the chair-elect of the Board of Regents, said he is pleased with Georgia Gwinnett's new status.

"This is an important step for Georgia Gwinnett College and the community it serves," Tucker, who represents schools including Georgia Gwinnett in the state's Seventh Congressional District, said in a news release. "Its rapid progress in working through the requirements of SACS helps the University System of Georgia create a more educated Georgia, and it helps us accommodate the growing enrollment throughout the state."

As a candidate for accreditation, Georgia Gwinnett College can now apply to the U.S. Department of Education for federal financial aid programs such as Pell grants and Stafford loans. Typically, the federal aid is available 90 days from the time the college submits a complete application, providing no issues are raised, said Jennifer Stephens, spokeswoman for the college. Georgia Gwinnett plans to submit its application in two weeks, she said.

Access to the federal aid will help ease the burden on the Georgia Gwinnett College Foundation as the college's student population grows. The Foundation has been giving students matching grants if they qualify for the federal aid, Stephens said. To date, the Foundation has paid out more than $500,000 in grants to augment the fact that students have not been eligible for the federal aid.

Students have, however, been eligible to receive the state HOPE Scholarship.

"Candidacy also supports seamless transferability of GGC credits to colleges and universities across the nation," Hakes said. "Many of our students have already successfully applied and been accepted to graduate schools, including one student who has been accepted into a master's program at Harvard University."

College President Daniel Kaufman said candidacy is one of several remarkable achievements for the school this year.

"Groundbreakings are scheduled for a new library, student activities center and student dormitories later this fall, adding to the recent opening of our new fitness center, parking deck, dining facilities and the launch of our first study abroad opportunity and intramural sports program," he said in the news release.

"However, today I am delighted that we have received this significant announcement from SACS that GGC met the requirements for candidacy," he added.