SOCCCD and its colleges receive accreditation warning

REPORT (Illustration by Oliver Yu)

MaryAnne Shults

Just when it appeared that the South Orange County Community College District was cleaning up its act, its historically controversial board has received yet another pointed warning about how it conducts business.

Last week, the district announced it received a warning notice from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges to both Saddleback and Irvine Valley Colleges following accreditation visits in October.

Since that time, several significant leadership transitions have taken place including several new trustees and new board leadership as well as a new chancellor.

Chancellor Gary Poertner, who took over from Raghu Mather in December, said he was proud of the 11 commendations the two colleges received in the reports, but acknowledged there are concerns to address.

“We have some important work ahead of us to correct the deficiencies,” Poertner said. “We take the commission’s recommendations and warning very seriously.”

Warning is issued when the commission finds an institution has pursued a course of action which deviates from the commission’s eligibility requirements, accreditation standards or policy to an extent that raises concern regarding the ability of the institution to meet standards, according to a letter dated Jan. 31, sent to Saddleback College President Tod Burnett.

The district has until October to resolve six recommendations for the ACCJC, most of which address better planning, synchronicity and communication.

During this warning period, both colleges continue to be accredited institutions and this will not immediately affect students.

Accreditation is a voluntary process for evaluation used in higher education communities. This peer-based quality assurance process sets standards and provides a checks-and-balances system. All colleges must complete an accreditation self-study every six years.

The listed recommendation are SOCCCD develop strategic plans inclusive of planning at the colleges that are directly tied to district resource allocation for all entities, develop and implement an open and inclusive resource allocation model, and develop a communications process among district entities on key issues of concern.

The board of trustees must communicate results of an annual self evaluation process and use this as a basic for improvement and develop a clearly defined policy for a code of ethics which includes dealing with violations of said code.

Lastly, the team recommends the district provide clear delineation of its functional responsibilities. The district should perform a regular review of committees and assess and communicate decision making processes and effectiveness of services to the colleges.

Both colleges also received commendations. Saddleback was complimented for their positive campus climate, physical renovations, academic senate’s development of student learning outcomes, and planning. Special mention was made regarding the college’s dedication to its distance education program and its transfer center.

“I am very proud of the commendations earned…and look forward to working with our new chancellor and the district to address the commission’s recommendations,” Burnett said.

The commission emphasized that IVC must develop a better relationship with district leadership and the board, adding the positive statement that the constituent groups at the college have developed a cordial working relationship with President Glenn Roquemore “with new optimism.”

“While we have been placed on warning, I’m proud of our faculty and staff and how we came together,” Roquemore wrote in a staff memorandum. “I know going forward we will continue to build on this momentum. I’m certain we are committed to working together and moving forward on meeting the recommendations.”

Both colleges will assemble task forces to strategically address the recommendations. Chancellor Poertner will work with both colleges and will assemble a joint task force.

“We are committed to resolving the commission’s recommendations so our colleges can become accredited,” Poertner said. “It is imperative the colleges and district work together to collectively correct any deficiencies and strive for continual self improvement on behalf of our students.”

Poertner brings a breath of fresh air to this district and pledges to seek better cohesiveness throughout the district and to address the issues head on, saying he perceives this as both a challenge and an opportunity.

Information and documentation regarding accreditation is available on both college’s websites at http://www.saddleback.edu/accreditation and http://www.ivc.edu/accreditation.

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