Virtual High School Earns Accreditation As Alternative Route to Diploma

OXFORD, Miss. – Although there are no hallways with lockers, homecoming festivities or graduation ceremonies, the University of Mississippi’s online Independent Study High School is recognized as a legitimate alternative program for earning a diploma.

Officials from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and Council on Accreditation and School Improvement announced Tuesday that the program has earned full accreditation.

“The accreditation proves that we are doing what we say we are doing,” said program director Ellen Shelton. “We truly offer a rigorous program to students. We are not an online diploma mill.”

With accreditation, Shelton hopes to one day implement a graduation ceremony to make the experience more like a traditional high school. To date, the school has awarded diplomas to 12 students and serves an average of 45 students per semester.

“We don’t see ourselves as supplanting the public school,” Shelton said. “We see ourselves as offering alternatives to enrich a student’s academic experience.”

Part of UM’s Department of Outreach and Continuing Education, the online virtual high school for grades 9-12 offers the state’s entire core curriculum plus certain electives. It attracts students mainly regionally, but prospective students could live anywhere in the country. The school’s potential audience ranges from athletes and musicians to students with special needs or those who must work.

“When we started this, I specifically had in mind those students with health or physical limitations, teenage moms and even those bright students in small schools with limited course options,” said Lynn Murchison, UM director of academic credit programs. “With accreditation, now the school is a gift for all of Mississippi.”

SACS CASI provides nationally-recognized accreditation, the purpose of which is continuous school improvement focused on increasing student performance. To earn accreditation, schools must meet SACS CASI’s high standards, be evaluated by a team of professionals from outside the school and implement a continuous process of school improvement.

“SACS CASI accreditation is a rigorous process that focuses the entire school on the primary goal of creating lifelong learners.” said Mark Elgart, president/CEO of AdvancED, the parent organization of SACS CASI. “The university’s independent high school is to be commended for engaging in this process and demonstrating a commitment to continuous improvement.”

The UM Independent Study High School offers certified teachers endorsed in their subject areas, personal one-on-one student attention and fast response to student assignments and inquiries.

Independent study offers students convenience, flexibility and control over their academic schedules, all while delivering a comprehensive high school academic experience that can complement offerings in local districts or provide courses leading to a UM-ISHS diploma.

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