The Tai Sophia Institute, a wellness school based in North Laurel, has nearly doubled its student enrollment during the past three years. That impressive growth has spurred the enterprise, which was founded in 1974 as the College of Chinese Acupuncture, U.S., to move toward changing its status from a nonprofit to a university.
To date, Tai Sophia has received accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), which accredits degree-granting colleges and universities in Maryland. Since 2006, the institute has launched several new graduate programs, including a Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism, a master’s in Oriental Medicine, and a Master of Science in Nutrition and Integrative Health.
Frank Vitale certainly feels that the time is right for Tai Sophia to make the move. Tai Sophia’s president, Vitale said that the institute’s growing popularity is a direct reflection of the nation’s failing national health care system.
“It is in need of change, and we as users need to advocate for that change,” he said. “Tai Sophia is an academic leader in the field of natural sciences and wellness and, as such, our students learn the art of living well in a holistic way — mind, body and spirit.
“Our students learn how alterations in human behavior can have a dramatic positive impact on how well we live life and thus become far less dependent on the current health system,” he said. “Our students learn to ask, listen and teach.”
Tai Sophia’s growth isn’t coming from the top down, said Judith Broida, the institute’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.
“It’s coming from people like you and me, who are seeking out alternative medicines that use the healing powers of our body and do not have those kinds of side affects,” Broida said. “One by one, the accumulation of all of us is leading to a giant revolution.”
Conventional western medicine, she said, is reactive, not proactive.
A report published by the Bravewell Collaborative found that, in a survey of integrative medicine centers, 75% reported success using integrative practices to treat chronic pain and more than half reported positive results for gastrointestinal conditions, depression and anxiety, cancer and chronic stress.
Another recent Bravewell report indicated that more than 50% of people older than 50 use some form of complementary medicine.
“We have students who said they’ve waited their whole lives for something like this,” said Broida. “We have people flying in from California and driving in from New York. Complementary or integrative medicine can work.”
There’s another reason for Tai Sophia’s intended expansion: Students are realizing that education in complementary or integrative medicine is leading to jobs in a growing sector.
Cheryl Walker, Tai Sophia’s program manager for Health and Wellness Coaching, is also a faculty member in the Master of Arts in Transformative Leadership and Social Change program. “There are not only jobs in these fields, but students believe these jobs are in line with their values,” she said. “It’s no wonder our open houses are quite full.”
The 12-acre campus of Tai Sophia includes a book store, library, art gallery and herbal dispensary, as well as meditation and herb gardens, all of which are open to the public.
The institute’s name, Tai Sophia, represents the meeting point of the ancient healing traditions from the East and West: The Chinese word Tai means “great” and the Greek word Sophia means “wisdom.” Together, the two words serve as the foundation of the institute’s mission and the root of all of its programs and services.
Becoming a University
To become a university, Tai Sophia must receive approval from the state government, said Richard Pokrass, MSCHE spokesperson. The accrediting organization, in this case MSCHE, needs to review the change.
“Overall, accreditation is a very complicated process,” he said. “Initial accreditation by a college or university takes up to five years. All MSCHE accredited institutions must first be licensed by the state in which they are based. [In addition], the institutions must meet the commission’s 10 requirements of affiliations and provide evidence of compliance with the commission’s 14 accreditation standards.”
Once an institution receives accreditation, it must submit to MSCHE, at 10-year intervals, an institutional self-study that demonstrates compliance with the accreditation standards.
“Submission of the self-study to the commission is followed by a three-day visit to the institution by a team of peer evaluators, whose primary role is to verify the contents of the self-study and make recommendations to the commission regarding the institution’s accreditation,” he said.