Accreditation report tells of campus-Wide Progress

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Southwestern College is preparing a report card for its accreditation agency and it plans to give itself high marks.

A mid-term report due Oct. 15 to the Accrediting Commission of Colleges and Junior Colleges, the entity charged with granting accreditation in the western region of the United States, highlights effective new institutional practices put in place since its year-and-a-half probation in 2010-2011.

SWC’s midterm report to the ACCJC states “there was broad participation by the college community, the midterm report accurately reflects the progress the college has made, and continues to make, since receiving reaffirmation of accreditation.”

Fifteen months after having its probation lifted and full accreditation status restored, the college continues to make strides on its path to fostering an environment of mutual respect, communication and trust among the administration, faculty and students, according to Governing Board President Norma Hernandez.

She had praise for all the college’s progress and its employees who have helped to right the ship.

“This midterm report is extremely, very, very impressive,” said Hernandez. “Given where we’ve been with accreditation and where we are now, I would like to commend everyone involved because I know it’s taken everyone pulling together and getting us to where we are now.”

SWC’s Accreditation Oversight Committee was co-chaired by Dr. Mink Stavenga and Librarian Ron Vess. A team of faculty and administration was instrumental in guiding the process of correcting 10 deficiencies identified by the ACCJC. Committee members also worked to resolve 76 self-identified issues found by the college.

“There are groups or individuals responsible for making sure they remain sustained,” said Stavenga. “For example, the Institutional Technology Committee oversees the recommendation related to the technology plan, and so on. There are committees or group of individuals that are responsible for making sure these resolutions remain resolved and that they are sustained in their resolution.”

One issue with the previous administration was lack of shared governance. Accreditation teams worked together to put a plan in place to enable the administration and faculty to work collaboratively.

Bruce MacNintch, president of the SWC classified union, said collaboration has improved.

“One of the main issues was shared governance and I think we have that now,” he said. “People are getting in the habit of coming to meetings and participating. Three years ago, we had none. We had a superintendent/president (Raj Chopra) and a governing board that did not believe they had any responsibility to talk to any of the employees here. It was purely from the top down.”

MacNintch said turnover on the governing board, the stellar work of former Interim Superintendent Denise Whittaker, and the hiring of Superintendent Dr. Melinda Nish have given the college a sense of stability that it had lacked for several years.

“They came in and did a great job,” said MacNintch. “It was more of a question of empowering the faculty to do to the things we we’re capable of doing, and not falling back into bad habits.”

Accreditation committees looked at what they felt the students should know, as well as what the student should be able to accomplish after completing a course at SWC. They sought to move away from the “old paradigm of passive instruction” and into methods based on active learning. Student Learning Outcomes were devised in order to assess not only whether students absorbed and understood particular ideas or concepts, but to determine if they were able to apply them in necessary “real life” contexts.

SWC’s midterm report demonstrates that faculty and staff morale is at its highest point in five years.

“(The accreditation body concluded) there was a lack of trust and respect among various constituent groups and as a result the student and the academic programs were suffering,” said Stavenga. “In a campus climate survey, there is a fivefold increase in the following question ‘How would you describe morale today compared to five years ago?’, which is certainly statistically significant.”

SWC has more hurdles to overcome before it is fully back on track, MacNintch said, specifically the budget.

“The budget is going to have major impacts on everything,” said MacNintch. “If Proposition 30 fails we’re looking at a mid-year cut of $4.8 million dollars, on top of all the cuts we’ve already sustained. I don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ve sustained staffing reductions through attrition and early retirement. The number of students went up two percent, so we’re not seeing a decline in demand, we simply seeing a reduction in what we can supply (in terms of number of classes).”

ACCJC is expected to issue its formal response to SWC’s mid-term report in January.

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