The University of Texas at El Paso has been placed on “warning status” by its accrediting commission and is at risk of losing accreditation because the campus “failed to demonstrate” that it employed enough faculty members to “support the mission and goals of the institution.”

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which accredits  degree-granting higher education institutions in Texas, voted on June 15 to send UTEP a letter notifying the institution of its warning status. This is the second time in five years that UTEP gets a warning letter.

This letter states that UTEP may remain in “warning” position for up to two years. However, UTEP’s status will be reviewed in December.   

UTEP did not respond to specific questions about this latest commission warning, but issued a statement to El Paso Matters.

“The notices we received from our accreditor in June were clerical in nature,” the school’s statement read. “We are working closely with our accreditor to address the minor issues and expect them to be resolved in a timely fashion. The educational quality at UTEP has never been stronger. UTEP has outstanding faculty that continue to develop and deliver strong curriculum. We’re graduating record numbers of students, our alumni are in high demand by employers across the globe, and the scope of our research has never been greater.” 

After this story was published, UTEP sent El Paso Matters the action letter that it received June 29 from SACSCOC.

The SACSCOC warning notification and action letter to UTEP make no mention of any clerical errors. But the action letter says that UTEP failed to provide key documentation to show that it was in compliance with accrediting standards. The action letters asks UTEP to provide additional information by Sept. 8.

The warning statement issued by SACSCOC states that UTEP failed to demonstrate that it provides enough full-time faculty to support its academic programs to ensure curriculum and program quality, and that UTEP did not provide documentation that it has enough people to oversee the program coordination for each of its academic programs. The letter also notes deficiencies in administrative and academic officers who lack the “appropriate experience and qualifications to lead the institution.” 

UTEP officials did not respond to an El Paso Matters question on whether the university had notified its employees, professors and the El Paso community about the warning status. Several UTEP professors and community leaders told El Paso Matters on Thursday that UTEP had not notified them.

After El Paso Matters raised questions Thursday about the accreditation warning, Provost John Wiebe emailed department chairs and program directors to advise them of the issue. He downplayed the seriousness of the action.

“We are confident that the minor issues noted are easily addressed with more information, which we will provide in advance of the Septemer 8th due date. Our SACSCOC representative emphasized that the warning is the shortest possible warning, an indication that they believe the issues were in the documentation, not the substance, of the standards,” wrote Wiebe, the university’s top academic officer.

His email said UTEP didn’t receive “a letter specifying the concerns and the data requested” until June 29. He didn’t say why the university waited a week after receiving the letter to share any information about the warning with its faculty.

According to the warning, UTEP has to submit a Monitoring Report that details how the institution plans to fix the problems. The report will be reviewed by the commission in December.

Edward Conroy, senior adviser for New America’s Education Policy Program, said being placed in a warning status is a concern, but that with some effort and “probably considerable financial resources” UTEP has the time and opportunity to fix the issues that SACSCOC raised. 

“Hiring faculty and staff takes a lot of time, so the institution is going to need to work hard and fast to start fixing the problem,” Conroy said. “Most of the time, institutions are able to make the needed corrections and get themselves taken off warning (status).”

In December, after it reviews UTEP’s response, SACSCOC will have several options to include UTEP’s removal from warning without an additional report, a request for a five-year follow-up report, leaving the university accredited but on warning status with a request for a Monitoring Report with or without help from commission personnel. Worst case scenario would be to revoke UTEP’s membership from SACSCOC for its failure to comply with the Principles of Accreditation.

While it is unlikely that  UTEP will lose its accreditation, some consequences could include no more access for federal financial aid. Also, people who earn a degree from an unaccredited school are not as desirable to employers and will find it harder to enroll in graduate school.

The action letter sent by SACSCOC to UTEP President Heather Wilson said the issue about administrator qualifications involved the dean of the College of Health Sciences, William Robertson.

He was appointed dean of health sciences in 2022, even though his doctorate is in multicultural teacher and childhood education.

“The institution provided justification and narrative regarding the Dean of the College of
Health Sciences; however, an updated job description reflective of the qualifications of
the incumbent was not provided,” the action letter said.

UTEP did not respond to questions from El Paso Matters about how it handled a similar warning that was issued five years ago. 

In 2018, UTEP was placed in warning status for 12 months for various reasons including a lack of enough qualified faculty, deficiencies in the evaluation and lack of development of faculty, its admissions policies, student outcomes and student complaints. 

A year later, SACSCOC removed UTEP from its warning status.

In 2013, El Paso Community College received a commission warning because it did not comply with several core requirements, but that was lifted a year later. In 2015, the Texas Board of Nursing changed the initial approval it gave the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing to a warning because of its examination pass rate.

Daniel Perez covers higher education for El Paso Matters, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter for El Paso Matters in partnership with Open Campus.