SACS's current policies require institutions to demonstrate that their faculty members are appropriately prepared and qualified to teach each and every course they are assigned to offer. Simply having an advanced degree no longer automatically qualifies a faculty member to teach any course he or she wants to teach.
In most cases, the minimum qualification for faculty members teaching undergraduate courses is an earned master's degree, but there are exceptions. Faculty teaching remedial or developmental courses numbered below 1000 that do not earn baccalaureate credit are only required to have a bachelor's degree. Additional information about these and other situations will be found in the SACS's guidelines for faculty credentials in our related downloads and in the discussion of SACS Comprehensive Standard 3.7.1 in the Resource Manual for the Principles of Accreditation.
Information about academic credentials must be clear, accurate, and correct: The SACS reviewers who examine faculty members' transcripts and compare them with our faculty rosters and other secondary documents should not find any discrepancies or become confused or uncertain about the information they encounter. Do not reinterpret, simplify, or use terms that you consider to be equivalent to what's stated on someone's credentials; report only what is actually recorded there.
SACS sees huge differences between a Master of Arts in Political Science, for instance, and a Master of Arts in Teaching with a concentration in political science, or a Master of Education with a certification in a political science. These are three different degrees. They are not interchangeable, and they cannot simply be referred to as a master’s in political science. Nor is saying “master’s” or “doctorate” an adequate specification of a degree. The full degree title must be given, and the discipline(s) must be clearly and fully spelled out. “OC,” for instance, does not adequately identify a discipline because it could equally well stand for organizational communication, organic chemistry, occupational counseling, or a half-dozen other subjects.
And, contrary to widespread local beliefs, “UK” is not an acceptable institution identifier since it could equally well refer to the University of Kansas as to the University of Kentucky. Nor would “Mt. St. Joe’s” or “Xavier” be acceptable since they are not full names of institutions and do not clearly specify which of several similarly named institutions are being cited.
Credentials must directly relate to the subject being taught: For faculty members who teach courses that are clearly and unequivocally within the discipline in which they earned their graduate degree(s), there is little difference between the old SACS standards and the new ones, and only a single set of credentials will be needed to cover their entire teaching assignment. However, those who teach a diverse repertoire of courses that cross disciplines, or those who have drifted into different areas of interest or a different discipline than they studied in graduate school may require more documentation and/or explanation of their credentials. It is possible, for instance, that those teaching a four-course load of diverse or interdisciplinary courses could end up with four different sets of credentials and/or narrative justifications listed in the faculty roster, one for each course they teach.
If not a degree, at least some graduate coursework should be in the teaching field: SACS is very concerned that faculty have appropriate academic preparation within the field they're teaching, and it would ideally like every faculty member teaching baccalaureate level courses to hold a doctorate or a master's degree in the discipline in which they are teaching. However, this is not currently practical and the actual minimum standard has been set a bit lower.
SACS's current expectation for faculty teaching baccalaureate courses is a master's degree and at least 18 graduate hours in the discipline they're teaching, whether their degree is in that discipline or another field. (Resource Manual for the Principles of Accreditation; p. 54) Keep in mind that, although they are closely related, these are two distinct requirements.
- First, faculty members must have a master's or a doctorate regardless of how many graduate hours they have earned. If they do not have a graduate degree, they do not meet the first requirement and it will be necessary to provide a narrative justification of why they are qualified to teach.
- Second, they must have completed an appropriate amount of graduate coursework in the discipline they are teaching. If their degree is in their teaching field, SACS will presume they have earned enough credit regardless of how many hours appear on their transcripts. But, if their graduate degree is not in their teaching field, they must have earned at least 18 semester hours of credit in the teaching field for it to be considered adequate.
Qualifications are not limited to graduate degrees and coursework: There are instances in which someone without a graduate degree or even a bachelor's degree may be qualified to teach a particular course based on their other life experiences. SACS realizes this and is perfectly willing to have them teach as long as their qualifications are explained and justified. In these cases, instead of listing degrees and numbers of graduate hours on the faculty roster, the department chair should narratively explain and document the instructor's alternate qualifications. These may include, but are not limited to, work or research experience, professional licensure or certification, non-credit professional development courses or other specialized training, prior experience teaching this or other related courses, or other extenuating circumstances.
Terminally-degreed faculty are required in each academic program: Although individual faculty members and course offerings are only subject to SACS's minimum criteria for academic credentials, academic programs are subject to somewhat higher standards. They are required to have a substantial number of teaching faculty who exceed these minimums. SACS does not individually require any faculty member teaching undergraduate courses to hold a doctorate or other terminal degree, but it does require programs to have some faculty with these credentials.
Comprehensive Standard 3.5.4 requires: "At least 25 percent of the discipline course hours in each major at the baccalaureate level are taught by faculty members holding the terminal degree — usually the earned doctorate— in the discipline, or the equivalent of the terminal degree."
Because of this, department chairs need to look beyond the individual qualifications of their faculty members when planning their course offerings. The mere fact that each faculty member is qualified to teach her/his courses is not enough to ensure that the program as a whole is in compliance with SACS's expectations for faculty qualifications.