The organization first reviewed the University’s scandal beginning in 2012. Schools more often see their accreditation threatened after serious financial trouble. Wheelan said UNC’s case is unprecedented.
“This is the biggest case of academic fraud we’ve had in the 10 years I’ve been there,” she said.
Wheelan said she and her team are still reviewing the Wainstein report and will send an official letter announcing the review to UNC administrators by the end of the week.
After receiving the letter, UNC will have 30 days to self-evaluate and respond.
“Our board will then read their response, and if they feel they’ve met all the compliance issues, then there will be no further action. If not, the board can follow up for additional information,” Wheelan said.
UNC has been cooperating with SACSCOC, said University spokeswoman Karen Moon.
The organization could then issue a warning, put UNC on probation or remove its accredited status — which would end its federal financial aid and deal a serious blow to its reputation. But SACSCOC generally doesn’t drop schools without taking lesser action first, Wheelan said.
“We give them time to come into compliance. So, you know, even though the board has the option of dropping them, that’s not usually the first action that they take,” she said.
SACSCOC accredits schools in 11 states in the South, as well as six schools outside of the U.S. The body meets in December and in June to evaluate institutions. Wheelan said a decision on UNC likely will come in June rather than at the meeting next month.
SACSCOC considers UNC a Level VI institution — the highest level possible — based on the number of advanced degree programs it offers. Wheelan said Level VI institutions have previously received warnings or been placed on probation but have never lost accreditation.
Losing accreditation would make UNC ineligible for any federal Title IV financial aid, including need-based aid and aid not based on need, said Phillip Asbury, deputy director of the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid.
“There are lots of different types of federal financial aid, but a school that’s not accredited qualifies for none of those types,” he said.
Asbury said the percentage of UNC students eligible for federal financial aid varies by year but is typically between 50 and 55 percent. He said he is confident the aid won’t go anywhere.
“It’s a very large scope, but we have no belief that that will become a reality here,” Asbury said. “We’ve been accredited for many, many years. We will continue to be. These are extreme hypotheticals.”