This week, the University of Puerto Rico will face a big test, it will have to defend before the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Philadelphia -with convincing and documented proof- its accreditation as the island´s leading education institution.
University accreditation guarantees quality in academic standards. It is the key to international prestige and collaborative opportunities for the university; to academic and economic benefits for students; and to the labor market for its graduates. The moment calls for the whole university community to join the effort to avoid losing its accreditation.
The 11 campuses of the UPR remain on probation. This is the first time that the entire university system is under “show-cause status” that means that they have to demonstrate the accreditation agency the reasons to maintain its accreditation.
Accreditation ensures students that they are investing time, energy and resources in a university that complies with the highest global standards. For those students who need financial aid, accreditation represents opportunities to access federal assistance, such as Pell scholarships, study and work programs, as well as loans. Programs that must be protected depend on the UPR general accreditation. And accreditation also provides for other universities to recognize UPR degrees. A degree from an accredited university is a valid credential for employment. Losing the accreditation would devaluate the degrees of thousands of graduates.
To overcome this condition, before April 30, the UPR must submit to the accrediting agency its audited financial statements for fiscal year 2018. It already submitted other statements that were overdue. The hearing that the president and interim directors at the eleven campuses will have this Wednesday and Thursday was optional. By confirming their attendance, they prove the university disposition to dispel doubts. The UPR must demonstrate that it has the fiscal capacity and the necessary processes to support its project.
The 11 campuses must demonstrate that they can meet solvency requirements, financial planning and financing sources. They should provide updated information on the impact of the Board’s plan and proposed restructuring on the institution’s status and finances.
The accrediting agency placed eight of the eleven campuses on probation two years ago, when it questioned their ability to fulfill their educational mission facing budget cuts. The paralysis of academic and administrative operation, due to a students strike, was also relevant.
The fact that the UPR mainly depends on public funds have been a constant question from accrediting agencies. And that was aggravated after the island´s bankruptcy process. The UPR has made concrete savings and has a fiscal recovery plan. It has the resources to prove that its project is not only viable but necessary for Puerto Rico. A long and open communication process with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education also favors it. But it is facing the urgent challenge to join efforts toward the same goal.
It is also up to the UPR to find new income sources that compensate for the cuts ordered by the Board and make it less dependent on the General Fund. It has the duty to issue guidelines to innovate and restructure the system until it becomes more efficient and responsive to new organizational, academic and labor standards. In addition, in line with the university spirit, it should find constructive ways to resolve their internal differences. The UPR has to strengthen itself a source of human capital and as a research source for the social and economic recovery of Puerto Rico.
For decades, first-class professionals have graduated from the UPR bringing pride to Puerto Rico. It is time to recover, with responsibility and transparency, the splendor the glory of a University that made Puerto Rico stand out globally.