Saddleback doesn’t fear accreditation check-up

Kristen Wilcox, Nathalie Lozano

Saddleback College is facing a mandatory mid-term accreditation report due by October 15. The report involves a self-evaluation, an on-site visit with review and status declaration of the college’s accreditation from the committee. A loss of accreditation would lead to non-transferable diplomas and credits.

The non-profit Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)requires full self-evaluations every six years, however, since Saddleback was given a warning in 2010 the school was forced to produce a progress report every year since.
The ACCJC issues guidelines for self-evaluation through Chancellor Gary Poertner and individual institutions post the results. The ACCJC recommendations are broken up into two categories. Six recommendations are for the school district and five recommendations are for the individual college.

“I can guarantee we will not ever be losing accreditation,” assured Saddleback College President Tod Burnett. “Accreditation makes us better.”

District Recommendation One asks that, “…the chancellor develop and implement both a strategic short-term and long-term plan that is inclusive of the planning at the colleges and that this planning structure drive the allocation of district resources for the colleges, Advanced Technology Education Park (ATEP), and the district.”
The result of major planning efforts has produced a district-wide strategic plan that includes the, “five-year construction plan for 2014-2018 and 2015-2019,” and the Educational and Facilities Master Plan (EFMP).
 Progress is recorded into TracDat, a universal information system for faculty and staff, and an annual progress report is posted on the SharePoint site for district planning.

College Recommendation One pressed the issue of the college and its constituent groups needing to achieve a collegial working relationship with the current president to address issues with a new optimism, and that the college does not have the same type of relationship with the district leadership and the Board of Trustees.

“The district is everyone, we are the district now. There is more of a sense of unity that we all need to work together to fit the standards,” said Caroline Durdella, director of operations planning and accreditation. “We definitely addressed this in our mid-term report and our now in compliance.”
District Recommendation Two asks, “…the district and colleges develop and implement a resource allocation model driven by planning that includes all district funds, is open, transparent and that is widely disseminated and reviewed/evaluated periodically for effectiveness.”

The report called the process for allocating basic-aid funds “mysterious” and expressed a communication issue.

Burnett said the district website has an update of what the prioritization is.

“Frankly it was former administration, on a district level primarily. There were a lot of arbitrary guidelines and it wasn’t data-driven or a lot of transparency. Now it is very public,” Burnett said. “We have committees, both colleges and the district is involved.”

For future funding allocation administration is expected to review operations through the strategic planning process. The developments in the report state that the projects qualifying for basic-aid are, “…capital construction, major renovation, large infrastructure projects, and site development…Retiree benefit trust fund and other long term obligations…Major technology initiatives, and 50 percent matching funds for scheduled maintenance and smaller renovations.”

“It’s sad that all this funding goes to one place instead of going to each building,” said Niaz Rahimzadeh, 23, biology.

College Recommendation Two says “…the team recommends that the college address the need for both maintenance and new facilities funds and use these funds to address the current safety, accessibility and educational needs of the students.”

Director of Research, Planning and Accreditation Caroline Durdella said, “The commission really wanted to make progress in their self-planning and allocating resources, and decision making.”

This led to “District-wide Strategic Planning” starting with Analysis of Data to District-wide Strategic Goals, bringing Saddleback Strategic Planning to Irvine Valley’s Strategic Planning to work together.

District Recommendation Three focused on communication between faculty and staff. “The teams recommend that the college, district, administrators, faculty and staff develop a communications process among the entities on key issues of district-wide concern including academic calendar, planning, (ATEP) Advanced Technology Education Park, technology and building priorities.

The recommendation is to create a new standardized channel of communication that everyone can use consistently and easily. The report also wanted a definitive consensus for how to handle disagreeing board members.
The main concerns for communication were that decisions had been made and it was not clear they were made, to which the solutions listed were to post the meetings agendas, record minutes, handouts and documents on SharePoint, delineate actions and decisions in meeting minutes, and provide RSS feeds. Now a monthly newsletter with highlights from the Board of Trustees is distributed.

“We added a board policy within the report that is at least a year old. As for communication, before we had a lack of processes and poor decision making,” Burnett said. “Now we have better committees that have better representation of everybody, including students and staff.”

The committee made its third College Recommendation asking that, “The commitment to equity and diversity be demonstrated through multiple means, including an updated Student Equity Plan and greater faculty involvement on the Equity and Diversity Committee.” 
The Equity and Diversity Committee has been reinvigorated and includes representatives from faculty, staff, and administration.

“We do monitor our student performance in various aspects…A portion of it will look at student performance through many demographics.” Durdella said. “You have to really look at your students and address any gaps.”

District Recommendation Four asks the Board of Trustees to communicate its self-evaluation results annually and use them as the basis for improvement.
College Recommendation Four the team recommends that the faculty have as a component of their evaluation effectiveness in producing student learning outcomes.

According to the mid-term report Saddleback College has demonstrated its commitment to the SLO assessment and program review processes through the institutionalization of the faculty-led Educational Planning and Assessment (EPA) Committee.
Monitoring student success has been in Burnett’s “Top 10 Goals” for the past three semesters.

The Student Success Task Force has been the linchpin in achieving this recommendation.

“All last year at every board meeting we talked about [student success], led by faculty in particular to give them updates on the student success task force recommendation, and at the last meeting we just had the state score
card,” Burnett said. “The board has been consistently becoming more engaged on student success and in particular completion of the agenda of the state, so they are more engaged than they ever have been. This new strategic plan will be critical.”

District Recommendation Five tells the Board of Trustees to develop a clearly defined policy for a code of ethics. In the report evaluation it is written that, “less than cordial displays,” have taken place from board members at meetings.

The report’s conclusion states, “Board members who are found by a majority of the board to have acted unethically or to have violated this policy may be subject to reprimand, possible exclusion from closed sessions, public censure, referral to the district attorney for prosecution, or other action as determined by the board.”

Burnett’s only comment is “there has been notable improvement and it used to be a lot more contentious. It is a lot more collegial today.”

College Recommendation Five “recommends that a student services strategic plan be developed and implemented to address issues including campus accessibility.”

The mid-term report states Student services has been an integral part of the
college strategic planning process and has addressed student accessibility and visibility for its student support services.

“I think there’s an emphasis placed on student success, however students are not aware that the schools continuance (with accreditation) runs off student success,” Rahimzadeh said.

Students can keep updated with simple web navigating due to information only a click away on the Saddleback home page, making it accessible and keeping students well informed.
”The commission also strongly recommends that all accreditation records be a click away,”

Durdella said. “That is one recommendation that we are in compliance with.”

The last District Recommendation states that “the district provides a clear delineation of its functional responsibilities, the district level process for decision-making and the role of the district ion college planning and decision-making. The district should provide a regular review of district communities, conduct an assessment of the overall effectiveness of services to the college and communicate the results of those reviews.”

According to the mid-term draft, “the need for clear delineation of roles and responsibilities within the district has been an issue since at least 1998, when it was addressed by the accreditation visiting team, and it continued to be identified as problematic in 2010.”

To solve this issue a district-wide function map describing workflow and entity functions was created by part of the District-Wide Planning Council. The Task Force on Committees which reports to the Consultation Council also got involved and asked each committee to do a self-evaluation of committee charge, membership, communication processes and assessment of goal attainment.

“Everybody was a little perplexed and we didn’t understand it fully but I think it had to do with, once again, communication. ‘What is the role of the college versus district services?’ that kind of stuff. We did clean up a lot of things,” Burnett said.

Caroline Durdella said, “I believe we are in a good place, what is clear to me when I reviewed the mid-term report and all the follow-up reports is that the entire district including the college has made substantive progress.”

All six of the recommendations were addressed in the college’s 2011 and 2012 Accreditation Follow-up Report. The follow-up reports were required under the 2010 warning.

To view the full draft of Saddleback College’s mid-term accreditation report visit:

For calendar of overdue department reviews

Chancellor Gary Poertner touched on ATEP and gave a glowing review on his website at


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