Section V. Commission on Colleges Complaint Procedures for itsAccredited Institutions

The Commission on Colleges recognizes the value of information provided by students, employees, and others in determining whether an institution's performance is consistent with the Commission's criteria for obtaining or maintaining accreditation. The Commission's interest also is in ensuring that member institutions maintain appropriate grievance procedures and standards of procedural fairness and that the procedures are applied appropriately and consistently. The procedures for the review of complaints involving member institutions enable the Commission to address possible violations of its Principles of Accreditation, the Core Requirements, and policies or procedures, as well as to address possible violations of an institution's own policies and procedures, if related to the Principles.

Because the Commission's complaint procedures are for the purpose of addressing any significant noncompliance with the Commission's standards, policies, or procedures, the procedures are not intended to be used to involve the Commission in disputes between individuals and members institutions, or cause the Commission to interpose itself as a reviewing authority in individual matters of admission, grades, granting or transferability of credits, application of academic policies, fees or other financial matters, disciplinary matters or other contractual rights and obligations. Nor does the Commission seek redress on an individual's behalf. Under no circumstances does the Commission respond to, or take action on, any complaint or any allegation that contains defamatory statements. Further, the Commission will not serve as a grievance panel when the outcome of institutional grievance or appeal processes is unsatisfactory to the complainant.

The Commission expects individuals to attempt to resolve the issue through all means available to the complainant, including following the institution's own published grievance procedures, before submitting a complaint to the Commission. Therefore, the Commission's usual practice is not to consider a complaint that is currently in administrative proceedings, including institutional proceedings, or in litigation. However, if there is substantial, credible evidence that indicates systemic problems with an accredited institution, the Commission may, at its discretion, choose to proceed with the review.

In order to be considered, formal complaints must be submitted in writing, using the Commission's "Complaint Against Institutions: Information Sheet and Form," signed, and sent to the attention of the Executive Director of the Commission on Colleges by the complainant(s). The Commission will not entertain complaints that are not in writing or which are anonymous, nor will it consider complaints sent electronically. In addition, the Commission will not act on complaints submitted on behalf of another individual or complaints forwarded to the Commission.

Responsibilities of Institutions
The Principles of Accreditation states: "The institution has adequate procedures for addressing written student complaints and is responsible for demonstrating that it follows those procedures when resolving student complaints." (Comprehensive Standard 4.5)

In addition, each institution is required to have in place student grievance and public complaint policies and procedures that are reasonable, fairly administered, and well-publicized. The Commission also requires, in accord with Federal regulations, that each institution maintains a record of complaints received by the institution. This record is made available to the Commission upon request.

Procedures for Filing a Complaint Against an Institution
An individual may make an inquiry regarding complaint procedures or about issues and concerns that could be considered complaints; however, the Commission's response and its obligations to meet the specific timetables outlined in these procedures will begin only after the complainant submits a formal complaint.

A formal complaint is one that is (1) submitted in writing, using the Commission's "Complaint Against Institutions: Information Sheet and Form," (2) signed, and (3) sent to the attention of the executive Director of the Commission on Colleges by the complainant(s). The "Information Sheet and Form" includes all of the following:

  1. A statement describing the complaint in the clearest possible terms.
  2. The section(s) of the Principles of Accreditation alleged to have been violated and the timeframe in which the significant lack of compliance is alleged to have occurred.
  3. A clear and concise written description of the evidence upon which the allegation is based. (Materials and documentation used to support a complainant's allegations should be limited to and directly related to the reported case.) The evidence should state relevant facts and document and support the allegation that the institution is in significant violation of the standards referenced in the complaint.
  4. A description of the action taken by the institution to date and a copy of the institution's response to the complainant as a result of prescribed procedures.
  5. An acknowledgment that Commission staff may send a copy of the complaint to the president of the institution.
    1. Full disclosure about any other external channels the complainant is pursuing , including legal action.

Once the formal written complaint is submitted, the Commission and the complainant are responsible for the following:

  1. The Commission will acknowledge a formal written complaint within 15 business days of its receipt.
  2. Within 30 business days after acknowledging receipt of the complaint, Commission staff will review the complaint and its documentation and determine whether it is within the scope of Commission policies and jurisdiction, if there is adequate documentation, whether the complaint identifies issues that may jeopardize the quality of educational programs or the general welfare and integrity of the institution, or whether the complaint raises significant questions about the institution's compliance with Commission standards. The Commission will inform the complainant regarding the disposition of the complaint to include one of the following:
    1. The complaint will not be processed further. The complaint is not within the scope of Commission policies and jurisdiction or there is inadequate documentation to raise questions concerning the institution's compliance with Commission standards.
    2. Where appropriate, a resolution is suggested to the complainant and the institution.
    3. The complaint has sufficient substance to warrant further review. In this case, the Commission will make every effort to expedite the investigation; however, the time required to conduct the investigation may vary considerably depending on the circumstances and nature of the complaint. When a complaint is further investigated, a copy of the complaint will be forwarded to the institution's chief executive officer who will be asked to respond to the Commission within 15 business days. Following the review, the complainant and institution involved will be notified regarding one of the following:
      1. The complaint will not be processed further because there is insufficient evidence of significant no-compliance. The decision of the Executive Director is final.
      2. If there appears to be sufficient evidence of significant non-compliance or if Commission staff are unable to determine compliance, then one of the
        1. Authorize a Special Committee to visit the institution. The Special Committee will examine documents and interview institutional personnel to analyze and make a judgment about compliance, and prepare a written report. The Report of the Committee will be forwarded to the Commission, or one of its standing committees, for review and action at the next meeting of the Commissioners. Following that meeting, the complainant and institution involved will be notified of the decision of the elected Commissioners.
        2. Forward the case directly to the Commission and its standing committees for review and action.
        3. Include the case in an upcoming scheduled visit to the institution.
        4. Request additional information. After reviewing the additional information, the Executive Director may decide to take any of the actions as described in (I), (II)(a), (II)(b), or (II)(c) above. For items (II)(a), (II)(b), or (II)(c) above, the decision of the Commission is final unless the disposition is one that is otherwise appealable as stated in the Commission policy, Appeals Procedures of the College Delegate Assembly.
      3. Individual complaints will be retained in the Commission files. Should a number of individual complaints suggest a pattern of concern that may evidence a significant lack of compliance with the Principle that was not evident from any one individual complaint, the Commission may renew its consideration of the matter for whatever action may be appropriate.

Complaints Against the Commission on Colleges
If an individual complainant alleges that the Commission on Colleges did not follow the complaint procedures outlined above, that individual should submit a written complaint to the Chair of the Commission on Colleges. The Chair will review the complaint with the Executive Director and, if the complaint cannot be resolved, may forward it to the next session of the Executive Council for review and action.

Commission on Colleges
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
1866 Southern Lane
Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097

http://www.sacscoc.org

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