Although the college was reaffirmed to operate as an accredited institution another seven years, the decision came with a stipulation. Five stipulations, to be exact.
Following its meeting on Jan. 7-9, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges took action to reaffirm Contra Costa College’s accreditation and require that the college submit a Follow-Up Report by Oct. 15.
Reaffirmation with a Follow-Up Report is required when there are deficiencies leading to noncompliance that do not create an immediate risk to the institution’s quality and effectiveness. However, if these deficiencies are not addressed and fully resolved in a short time, they may threaten quality and effectiveness and lead to increased noncompliance, thus endangering the institution’s accreditation.
“In many respects, this process has been very similar to the last time we went through accreditation,” Academic Senate President Wayne Organ said. “The main thing is that our accreditation was reaffirmed.”
Accreditation is a system of self-regulation developed by higher education institutions to evaluate the overall quality of any given institution and encourage its continual improvement. Accreditation standards represent the best practices in higher education and set expectations for institutions to meet every seven years.
“Nothing in the report was a surprise,” Organ said. “The visiting team gave a summary of their findings in an open meeting at CCC, and what they said at the meeting was substantively the same as the written recommendations from the commission.”
At the meeting, an open forum held at CCC on Oct. 9, 2014, Accreditation External Evaluation Team Chairperson Sylvia Thomas said, “You have a gem here. CCC is a solid institution with exemplary individuals, students and programs.”
She added that CCC is the type of college she would like her son to attend.
Despite the warm tone of the forum and the positive tidings, five areas of discrepancy were highlighted and must be addressed by the college by October.
Recommendations for each area were included with CCC’s reaffirmation letter, received by the college Feb. 6.
Of the five recommendations made by the ACCJC, the college meets its greatest challenge in addressing and resolving Recommendation 5. Recommendation 5 pertains to fiscal sustainability and coincides with one of CCC’s greatest and most recent problems: enrollment decline and the contingent declination of state apportioned funding.
Community colleges in California receive state funding per full-time equivalent student. One FTES is the equivalent of one student enrolled in 15 semester units or multiple students enrolled in a combined 15 semester units.
“FTES is our bread and butter and our bread and butter is declining,” Director of Business Services Mariles Magalong said. “How we address issues of fiscal sustainability is how we address our enrollment problems.”
The college’s reported annual resident FTES for which state apportionment was received for fiscal year 2013-14 was 5,689 FTES. Based on current figures and census data, Magalong said CCC has a projected total of 4,793 resident FTES for the 2014-15 year.
According to the State Chancellor’s Office website, with data dating back to fiscal year 1992-93, CCC has not dropped below 5,000 resident FTES in more than two decades.
“It is better to talk about how we increase enrollment before we talk about making reductions,” Magalong said.
Another challenge is presented by Recommendation 4, which implores the college to further develop a distance education plan.
This entails that CCC develop a comprehensive plan, including plans for teacher training, student orientation, online student and learning support services and general growth of distance education. Librarian Judith Flum, the current part-time distance education coordinator, has been spearheading these duties.
Though Flum works alongside a committee, she said CCC currently has no faculty working full-time to grow the distance education plan.
“There are people in our service area who are not taking any classes at all, but who I think would be willing to take distance education online because the demands of life keep them from ever making it to campus,” she said.
The growth of CCC’s distance education plan is likely to attract additional FTES, a means of mitigating enrollment decline that would also benefit the resolution of Recommendation 5, she said.
“We’re getting there (distance education plan), but it’s going to take awhile,” she said. “But we are moving in the right direction.”
Recommendation 1 concerns CCC’s Institutional Self-Evaluation Report Standard IIIA1c., which reads: Faculty and others directly responsible for student progress toward achieving stated student-learning outcomes have, as a component of their evaluation, effectiveness in producing those learning outcomes.
United Faculty Vice President for CCC Jeffrey Michels said that while faculty might very well be producing these learning outcomes, discrepancies with the required paperwork got the college dinged.
“Assignments and grading are not good enough,” he said. “(The state wants) rubrics to measure data and make it presentable.”
Dr. Michels believes the commission is looking for key phrases and terms, specifically the phrase student-learning outcomes.
Emphasis on SLOs has been a top priority for California’s system of higher education in recent years and is highly controversial among educators, he said.
“SLOs are about accountability, about creating data in easy to review formats,” he said. “(Recommendation 1 is geared toward) figuring out a way to measure the effectiveness of the institution and hold faculty accountable. But there’s no data out there that suggests improved accountability helps students.”
Recommendations 2 and 3 are based in self-evaluation, Program Review, data reporting and the Strategic Planning process.
Strategic Planning is an institution’s process of defining its strategy or direction, and making informed decisions on allocating its resources to efficiently pursue that strategy.
“We make sure while planning to keep equity essential,” Student Success Committee Chairperson Mayra Padilla said. “We’re looking through the student lens at different groups on campus and the different pathways out there to success.”
Dr. Padilla said this includes being cognizant of all student groups, no matter their skill level or level of college preparation, so that resources are equitable and no single group suffers from remediation made for another.
Regarding Recommendation 2, Organ said, “The Commission believes that we do not have a systematic way to evaluate the effectiveness of these areas that allows us to really tell if what we are trying to do is working. We agree with the commission and are working now, through our Strategic Planning process, to identify appropriate methods to evaluate and then improve all the many processes we have on campus.”
The college is addressing this recommendation by working to revamp the Program Review process as well, he said.
There is one setback, but one that should be fixed long before the Oct. 15 deadline for the Follow-Up Report.
SLO/AUO (administrative unit outcomes) Coordinator Gabriela Segade said, “We do not yet have the software to aggregate the data. It is still being developed.”
Recommendation 3 is based on Institutional Set Standards. The Accrediting Commission wants CCC to set acceptable goals for certain student success metrics, including retention, completion and acquisition of degree or certificate rates, and develop a plan for reaching these goals.
This will also be dealt with in the Strategic Planning process.
“We (the college) are in the process of setting them (Institutional Set Standards), so we need to be clear on what these standards are and what our goals are,” Senior Dean of Instruction Donna Floyd said. “We’ve laid out our process for how we are going to do that.”
Dr. Floyd, who acts as CCC’s accreditation officer, said she will have a tentative timeline for implementation by Thursday, when the committee handling the execution of the recommendations meets next.
Organ said, “Once I looked at the last time we went through this and thought about all we have already done, I realized that we are already in the midst of doing these things and our own timeline would get them done by Oct. 15.”