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Higher Learning Commission to Investigate Western Oklahoma State College

The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools announced on Thursday that it planned to investigate Western Oklahoma State College and its use of accelerated courses.

The move follows a Chronicle report detailing how thousands of college athletes have used the college’s 10-day classes to help maintain their eligibility to compete in NCAA sports. In a written statement, the commission said the article had “raised serious questions about the rigor of these courses, their appropriateness as college-level courses within a college curriculum, and the award of three semester hours of credit.”

The commission said it was also concerned about the marketing of those courses to athletes across the country, and the college’s apparent reliance on the classes to close possible gaps in its revenues.

Western Oklahoma, a two-year institution in Altus, Okla., was not due for its next comprehensive accreditation evaluation until 2017. But commission policy “provides for special monitoring of an institution when a situation appears to threaten the integrity of the institution or the quality of the education it provides,” the statement said.

The commission said it would make an on-site evaluation visit early next year. Before that visit, the college must submit a detailed report explaining its practices with regard to the two-week courses and addressing the question of whether they meet Higher Learning Commission standards.

The visit will focus on Western Oklahoma’s accelerated courses, its marketing of those courses to athletes and other students, and the institution’s financial reliance on the courses, the statement said.

The visit will inform Sylvia Manning, the commission’s president, on whether any sanction is warranted against the college, or if further monitoring is necessary. The commission will post its decision at the conclusion of the process, it said.

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