Community colleges are available in nearly every city across the United States, helping high school graduates and professional adults alike get the training and education they need to succeed in their chosen careers. A key component in a quality education from a community college is the school's accreditation, which ensures other schools and professional industries will recognize the degree and education received. However, not all community colleges successfully keep their accreditation status intact, leaving students and faculty scrambling to legitimize the education process without this important stamp of approval.
What is Accreditation?
According to the Maryland Higher Education Commission, accreditation is "a voluntary process of self-regulation and peer review adopted by the educational community." This means that educational institutions have agreed to evaluate one another to determine whether each has successfully achieved their stated educational goals.
When a school is accredited, it has been proven to provide a quality of education recognized by the community. Accredited schools are better recognized for their coursework and credits earned, and students who attend these institutions are more likely to be able to receive financial aid or transfer credits to another college or university.
It is important to note that while there are a number of different types of accreditation available to colleges today, the only legitimate accreditation organizations are recognized by the United States Department of Education. Not all colleges that are approved by their states are accredited as well. Prospective students should always ask whether a community college is accredited before enrolling. Students can also check the websites of the accreditation organizations to find out if their chosen school is listed.
When Accreditation Goes Bad
Because accredited community colleges are evaluated regularly by the appropriate accreditation agencies, these officials discover when procedures and policies are not followed correctly, and problems can arise. In these situations, colleges may be warned by the accreditation commission, complete with a timetable for improvements. If progress is not seen, the community college may lose its accreditation completely for a period of time.
Two Orange County community colleges are learning the accreditation lesson the hard way, with warnings from their respective agency over the improvements that must be made. According to a report in the Orange County Register, both Saddleback College and Irvine Valley College received warnings from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. The colleges were evaluated by the commission last October during routine assessments that occur every six years, and recommendations were issued shortly after the visit. Recommendations for the colleges include:
- Develop strategic plans that are directly tied to district resource allocation for all entities.
- Develop a communications process to address key concerns
- Communicate results of Board of Trustee's self-evaluation process
- Develop a clearly defined code of ethics that includes board violations of the code
- Provide clear delineation of functional responsibilities
- Assess and communicate decision-making processes
The new chancellor for South Orange County Community College District, Gary Poertner, told the OC Register, "It is imperative that the colleges and district work together to collectively correct any deficiencies and strive for continual self-improvement on behalf of our students. This is both a challenge and an opportunity."
This video explains why accreditation is important when it comes to choosing a college.
Back on Track
While Saddleback and Irvine Valley work hard to make the necessary corrections to save their accreditation, two other California community colleges have learned firsthand just how challenging it can be to earn accreditation back once probationary terms are set. According to a report in Contra Costa Times, Solano Community College has worked its way back to accreditation status after two long years on probation. The college had been called to the carpet for the following concerns:
- Fiscal stability
- Leadership and planning
- Improved board relations
- More efficient staffing
- Better communication and coordination
- Improved organization
In early 2009, Solano was put on restrictive "show cause" status, which was one step from losing accreditation entirely. Substantial progress had to be made on six items of concern in just six short months. Still, it took almost two years before the school made all the necessary changes to completely reinstate its original accreditation status.
This video explains the importance of community college accreditation.
SCC board president Denis Honeychurch said the improvements show "clearly that the men and women at the college care deeply about the institution."
In another part of California, it took Diablo Valley College nearly three years to get off of its probationary status, which nearly cost them their accreditation. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges cited the college for major problems ranging from lack of administrative efficiency to failure to prove students were learning necessary skills. The college's interim president, Peter Garcia, told Mercury News that the school worked hard to improve the school's problems.
"This is a really strong college," Garcia stated and added that employees were determined not to let the institution fail. More than two years after the probationary status came down, the accreditation organization acknowledged that all of the problems had been sufficiently repaired and again granted the school full accreditation status.
While accreditation isn't the only factor to consider when choosing a community college, it is important. Knowing that a school is regularly monitoring for educational and administrative quality gives students peace of mind in knowing they are choosing a good post-secondary education. With accreditation soundly in place, students at a community college can also rest assured the credits they earn through their school will be more likely to be accepted through other institutions and acknowledged by future employers in their chosen industry.
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