Edison College officials take steps to correct course substitution controversy

Edison State College President Kenneth Walker

Edison State College President Kenneth Walker

Edison State College administrators are using red tape to cover holes revealed in a course substitution controversy that’s threatening the school’s academic reputation.

In a special meeting of the college’s Board of Trustees, school leaders outlined steps to address discrepancies in student course substitutions – which have allowed students to graduate, while skirting core degree requirements. The school reported 180 students have been allowed to substitute required courses with those unrelated to their major.

The problem, if left alone, could devalue the college’s degrees and derail a reaccreditation process that’s already underway, school officials say.

On Friday, Edison President Kenneth Walker presented to the school’s Board of Trustees new steps that students and faculty will have to go through before a course substation is approved.

“We have plenty of checks in place now to ensure that any course substitutions comply with discipline requirements and the requirements for receipt of a college degree,” Walker said.

The school has implemented several layers of oversight aimed at ensuring the integrity of substitutions and reducing the number of substitutions.

■ Previously, the college required only the signature of each academic division’s dean and associate dean. Now, faculty chairs of the discipline, who are more familiar with each degree’s coursework, and Atkins must also sign off.

■ All substitutions must receive final approval from the school’s registrar office, which Atkins called the “gatekeeper” in reviewing degree requirements.

■ After students have earned 45 credits toward their degree, they must meet with an adviser to review the remaining course requirements.

■ The school is also upgrading its graduation auditing software. That processes could take until late this year or early next year to complete.

“Substitutions should really be rare,” said Steve Atkins, vice president of academic and student affairs for Edison.

In July, two Edison administrators with Edison’s business and technical studies, Dean Bill Roshon and Associate Dean Dennette Foy, were placed on administrative leave with pay after an investigation showed they allowed students to inappropriately substitute courses.

Three associate’s degree programs under that academic division have been cited for allowing improper course substitutions — business management, drafting and design, and accounting. More than 11 percent of the course substitutions allowed were deemed unrelated. Those substitutions may have been allowed in order to increase graduation rates and funnel students into the college’s related bachelor’s degree program.

The college’s policy allows students to substitute core courses, but only when appropriate, Atkins said. The classes must be related to the degree’s core coursework.

The announcement came while the school is under review for reaccreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which analyzes schools every 10 years to ensure the integrity of the academic process.

Walker said the breaches in course substitution protocol shouldn’t affect the reaccreditation process since the school has admitted the problem and is taking steps to address it.

“One problem was just not having the controls in place,” said Atkins.

Atkins first raised concerns about course substitutions in December.

Trustees praised the efforts of Walker and Atkins in addressing the problem.

“I think we’ve made some positive steps and in a timely manner,” Edison Trustee Mary Lee Mann said.

More recommendations could come down the line as substitutions are currently being reviewed by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Walker said Roshon and Foy will remain on leave until the completion of an internal investigation.

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