Nine months after the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges slapped College of the Redwoods with its most severe sanction, school officials submitted a report Monday, Oct. 15 detailing how the college plans to meet accreditation standards moving forward.
The regional accreditation commission placed the college on “show cause” status in February 2012 due to its failure to meet accreditation standards on a variety of recommendations, including the assessment of student progress in the classroom.
”Even though we knew our students were successful - they were getting jobs and transferring on to four-year institutions - we did not have a good system in place to track what our students were learning and the progress they were making,” explained CR president Kathryn Smith, formerly Kathryn Lehner. “We needed to be able to say, looking at these results, here’s how we can improve.”
Although many faculty members were recording learning benchmarks independently, Smith said comprehensive records were not kept. Consequently, there was no way to review what students were learning. With the development of the report, the school now has a process where faculty will be responsible for assessing student performance on a regular basis, she said. Additionally, Smith said, the report details how the school plans to more effectively tie its educational master, strategic and technology plans to its budget - another concern raised by the commission.
Since the sanction was issued, administration, staff and faculty have been busy compiling a 300-page report that was submitted Oct. 15 - so much so that CR decided to cancel its 26th _annual science night, which had been set for late October.
”There has been a lot of stress on the campus to compile this report and address the commission’s concerns,” Smith said. “That means a lot of late hours and dedication from faculty and staff. And this is just the beginning.”
Smith said the commission will reconsider its sanction sometime in February 2013.
”Ideally, we would be removed from show cause status and our position as an accredited institution would be reaffirmed,” Smith said. “But I don’t think that will happen. Much more likely is that the commission will return and say we are either on probation or warning status or still on show cause status. Right now, we still have a lot of work to do.”
The college has also been required to prepare for possible closure, although Smith said she is optimistic that the school will retain its status as an accredited institution. Losing accreditation would be devastating for the school. It would mean a loss of state funding and federal financial aid. It would also mean that students at the unaccredited campus would not be eligible to transfer credits to other four-year universities, like Humboldt State University.
A loss of accreditation would also hurt the community, CR Business and Training Center director Julia Peterson said.
”What College of the Redwoods does is provide the community with a pool of trained, middle-skill workers,” she said. __Peterson said the college also helps provide community members with training opportunities to gain employable skills. Of students who completed career technical education programs within the last year, over 85 percent surveyed were employed, she said.
Smith sat on five ACCJC review teams and led two before being hired to lead the college in May. She said her experience working with the accrediting commission was one of the reasons she was hired.
In addition to Smith’s experience, the college has also had the help of alumnus and special trustee Tom Henry, appointed by the College of the Redwoods board in August.
According to Smith, Henry has helped other California colleges struggling with accreditation issues, including El Camino College Compton Center in Southern California and Solano Community College. In addition to sitting on the board of trustees, Henry oversaw and reviewed the preparation of the report.
Henry’s services are in demand these days. College of the Redwoods is one of several community colleges in California struggling with accreditation. Diablo Valley Community College, Solano Community College, Cuesta Community College and the City College of San Francisco have all recently received show cause sanctions. Many more have received less severe warnings or probation sanctions.
According to David Baime of the American Association of Community Colleges, regional accreditors - especially those in California - started placing a much stronger emphasis on student learning outcomes in recent years. Baime said coupled with deep budget cuts, many California institutions have struggled to keep up.
”I think it is fair to say that California institutions have, for whatever reason, run into a disproportionate number of challenges in meeting accrediting standards,” he said.
Kaci Poor can be reached at 441-0504 or email@example.com.