The Southwest School of Art is located downtown at the former Ursuline Academy.
The Southwest School of Art operated independently for the last time on April 21. It will be part the University of Texas at San Antonio starting in the fall. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The Southwest School of Art has been accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, six years after launching its Bachelor of Fine Arts degree program, the college announced this week.

The accreditation means the San Antonio art school is officially recognized among its art and design school peers nationwide, which benefits students who plan to attend graduate school or need a degree from an accredited college, SSA President Paula Owen said Thursday.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), founded in 1944, is a group of roughly 363 accredited schools, conservatories, colleges, and universities, according to its website. The organization sets national standards for undergraduate and graduate degrees and other art and design credentials.

“The NASAD accreditation gives us validation, especially among our audience,” Owen said.

The accreditation comes more than two years after the school granted its first degrees to 11 students in April 2018 and decided to suspend its pursuit of accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools-Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Instead, the school decided seek accreditation from NASAD.

Forty-two students are currently enrolled in the BFA program, and 12 artists have graduated since the first class in 2018, said Debra Del Toro, vice president of communications and recruitment strategy.

“It’s been quite a journey but an exceptional experience to go through the accreditation process,” Owen said. “Any time you have to present yourself in whatever capacity, you learn a lot about yourself. There’s a lot of assessment in accreditation, so we’ve done a lot of evaluating and processing over the last few years.”

The school had to submit detailed information to NASAD about its facilities, faculty members and their qualifications, administrators and their qualifications, how the school is governed, and financial information, as well as future plans for the college, Owen said. Then NASAD sent a team to San Antonio in February to assess the school, which received approval this week.

Previously, the school sought accreditation through SACSCOC, the regional accreditation entity of higher education institutions that grant degrees in 11 southern states. But SSA’s finances did not meet the accrediting body’s stringent requirements at the time.

Owen said the school still plans to seek accreditation from SACSCOC, but she could not provide a definitive timeline for when SSA might receive approval. She said most colleges and universities seek accreditation from their regional accrediting agencies, such as SACSCOC, because those organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Accreditation through the regional agency would allow students at the school to receive federal financial aid, which is not currently available to SSA students.

“That is the pathway for us because it’s approved by the state,” she said.

Texas requires higher education institutions to be accredited by a state-approved agency like SACSCOC to receive federal funding, Owen said. But the state already had authorized the school to grant degrees through the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

“The degree is authorized by the state of Texas, but now the institution is accredited,” she said.

In the absence of federal financial aid, Southwest has distributed about $2 million in the past six years in scholarship funds raised through donations, with between 85 percent to 90 percent of its students receiving some sort of aid, Owen said. These funds have allowed the school to support students who may not have been able to attend college otherwise, as well as many first-generation college students, who represent about 25 percent of the student population.

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.