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Two Edison State College administrators have been placed on administrative leave with pay following an investigation that showed they allowed students to substitute general education courses unrelated to their degree programs for core courses.
The substitution controversy comes as Edison officials are seeking reaccreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Steve Atkins, the college’s vice president for academic affairs, said Bill Roshon and Dennette Foy, the dean and associate dean of business and technical studies, were placed on leave Thursday.
The decision comes after college officials learned about 15 students graduated this spring despite the fact they lacked appropriate core courses.
“We have identified the issues and have taken the appropriate steps to ensure this can not happen again,” Edison President Kenneth Walker said during a press conference Thursday. “We have taken it very seriously.”
Atkins in December said he had serious concerns surrounding course substitutions within the college. He later found that since 2005, students in three associate degree programs — accounting technology, business management, and drafting and design — were allowed to substitute general education courses for core degree requirements. Those substitutions likely occurred to increase the graduate rates into related bachelors degree programs.
Edison College administrators approved about 700 course substitutions in the 2006-07 school year. That number jumped to about 1,500 in the 2010-11 school year, Atkins said.
Not all of those, however, were considered inappropriate substitutions.
Atkins said the college’s policy allows students to substitute core courses when appropriate. The classes being substituted, however, needs to be similar or related to the core coursework.
That means an accounting course would need to be substituted with a similar course, not something in an unrelated field, which Atkins said occasionally occurred.
“It should have been obvious,” Atkins said of some substitutions.
About 2.5 percent of Edison students graduated in the past five years without all of the appropriate coursework needed. And while those students didn’t earn all of the credits needed to graduate, Atkins said their degrees won’t be revoked.
“We don’t rescind degrees,” Atkins said.
Instead the college has revised its substitution process — now requests must be approved by the academic department chair of the discipline and Atkins — and plans to offer graduates a chance to retake the courses free of charge.
Graduates with the inappropriate coursework have been identified, but not yet contacted, Atkins said Thursday.
The Georgia-based Southern Association of Colleges and Schools looks at the accreditation of schools like Edison every 10 years to ensure students are getting what they paid for. The accreditation process is a long one, and schools that don’t stack up by the final review can be denied reaccreditation and be placed on probation for a year of more.
Atkins said college officials were directed by SACS officials to disclose that there was an investigation into coursework substitutions. Those officials also “stressed the importance in clearing up all issues related to substitutions” prior to the November on-site visit.
Atkins said he informed the association of the 15 spring graduates missing core requirements, and was told to “fully disclose the substitution problem in a focused report” and provide information about how the school is in compliance.
While this new hurdle is could make the accreditation process more difficult, Atkins said he was not worried the school would lose its accreditation because of it. He did, however, say he was “fearful of the work” the school will have to do because of the recurrence of substitution problems.
The school has contracted the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers to conduct a detailed audit of substitutions and related practices. That audit is expected to be complete in about three weeks.