Accreditation Board Elevates Brenau University Status to a Doctoral Degree-Granting Institution

Dec 16, 2010
Rudi Kiefer

The Board of Trustees of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges approved Brenau University’s application to become a Level V doctoral degree-granting institution, paving the way for Brenau to launch a Doctor of Nursing Practice program in August 2011 and at least two other doctorates as early as 2012.

The Commission on Colleges board approved Gainesville, Ga.-based Brenau’s application for a classification change during the 115th annual meeting of SACS in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 22 and officially published notice of that action today. The university will begin accepting applications for the Doctor of Nursing Practice program in January and admit candidates for its first doctorate in August.

“This is a significant step toward the fulfillment of the Brenau 2025 Strategic Plan and its goal to develop and implement a wide array of socially responsible, professional graduate programs, including doctorates in a number of fields,” said Brenau University President Ed Schrader, who was in Louisville for the SACS meeting. “The SACS action represents a broader recognition of the university’s expertise and its ability to deliver on those goals.”

Gale Starich, dean of both the Sidney O. Smith Jr. Graduate School and the College of Health & Science, said the university will notify the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Georgia Board of Nursing of its intentions to offer the advanced degree. She said Brenau will begin the doctoral program by admitting 12 to 15 students for the fall term and build up to about 25 new admissions a year by fall 2015. “We will probably limit the class size to about 25 unless there is an inordinate demand for more seats,” she said.

Prior to this week’s action, SACS classified Brenau as a Level IV institution, which meant it could offer only masters and education specialist degrees. The Level V classification permits the university to offer three doctorates – more than that requires an application to the highest SACS classification, Level VI. Brenau plans to round out its Level V field with a Ph.D. in adult education in 2012 and a Doctor of Occupational Therapy by 2013.

SACS Commission on Colleges oversees the educational practices of colleges in 11 Southern states, Texas to Virginia, and Latin America.

Technically, Brenau already offers one “terminal” degree – the highest degree attainable in an academic discipline or profession. In the fall the university seated its first class for a Master of Fine Arts in Interior Design. The clinical doctorate in nursing, however, will be the first doctorate. The advanced nursing degree program, which comprises seven semesters, focuses on practical, but high-level, applications of the nursing disciplines.

“It is about developing nursing leadership for positions at the decision-making table as we work on health care reform in our country,” It focuses on the advanced clinical aspects of nursing rather than the purely academic doctorate in the field,” said Starich.

Brenau University Trustee Robin Smith Dudley, who graduated from Brenau in 1978 with a nursing degree, said that she is “thrilled” that it is the nursing program that is opening the door for Brenau to move to a higher academic level.

“I’m proud of my Brenau education,” Dudley said, “but this is all about making something good even better – no, making it exemplary. Brenau is on the right path. This doctorate is going to put Brenau on the map because it is so important to society for nurses to be prepared to lead in health care practice and policy-making.”

Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Jim Southerland, the university’s top academic officer, credited SACS’ relatively quick approval of Brenau’s application to the “years of study and preparation by dedicated faculty and staff” that went on behind the scenes before Brenau submitted its request at the beginning of the 2010-11 academic year in August.

“Brenau has a high-quality faculty that can deliver doctoral-level degree programs,” Southerland said. “I think the SACS action verifies that fact.”

Christina White, dean of graduate admissions at Brenau, said the university will post applications and detailed information for prospective applicants on Jan. 15. Following informational sessions in January, February and March, it will admit students for the first class between March and May in time for coursework to begin in August.

Brenau currently enrolls about 2,800 students, more than 900 of which are enrolled in coeducational master’s degree- and specialist-level graduate programs in its four colleges. The implementation of the university’s strategic plan calls for increasing enrollment to about 5,000 students by 2025 with most of the growth’s occurring in graduate programs.

SACS’ action also precipitates a probable change in classification by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which in 1973 created a system of classification for higher learning institutions based on student body demographics, the size and setting of the campus and community involvement. The doctorate-granting category for non-research universities covers institutions that award at least 20 doctoral degrees per year. Unlike the SACS classification, the Carnegie classification excludes doctoral-level degrees that qualify recipients for entry into professional practice, such as the doctorates in law, pharmacy, physical therapy, medicine and other special-focus degrees.

Schrader said Brenau’s strategic plan envisions creation of doctorates and other graduate degree programs that will help distinguish Brenau even more in the two classification groups.

“What we mean when we refer to ‘socially responsible’ doctoral programs are those for which there is a need in the communities we serve and in the global society,” he said. “We are not creating doctoral programs for bragging rights or because it might put us in the same statistical research category as Emory or other larger universities. We are creating doctorates because there is a demand in our society for better-educated teachers, nurses and business leaders – and for a better-educated population in general.”