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FRC accreditation: A deeper dive

The President of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior College (ACCJC), Dr. Richard Winn, offered a training session to Feather River College’s board of trustees Nov. 12. He was  introduced by FRC president, Dr. Kevin Trutna, who explained that the FRC board had requested further training at its annual board retreat.

Winn began with a brief history of the ACCJC, which began in 1965 as an independent body charged with evaluating quality assurance when the federal government started providing substantial aid to colleges and universities. He emphasized the ACCJC’s independence from the government, noting that it came from the academic culture and that it is “a private, nonprofit, non-aligned institution serving its membership.”

Member colleges pay dues based on student enrollment. “It’s well worth it in terms of the quality, professional consultation,” they receive, said Winn. Further, they understand that the evaluation of their institution will be both impartial and thorough. This is vital, because their federal aid and reputation depend on it.

There are 944 community colleges in the nation, and they are governed by over 7,000 citizen trustees. “Community colleges rely heavily on the trustees,” said Winn.

California alone has 113 community colleges, and it is one of 36 states that have local governing boards. The other states have either statewide boards, a combination of state and local boards, or they are governed by a university. This gives California’s locally elected boards a great deal of responsibility.

Winn, who has been doing accreditation work since 2002, said students and parents are very concerned about accreditation, asking is the college, “in good standing, have  they been in trouble?” Colleges have trouble hiring quality teachers and staff if they’ve had accreditation troubles. It’s also important for philanthropy, as donors want to make sure their money is well spent.

Trutna noted that recently, when community colleges were allowed to add four-year bachelor’s degrees to their programs, three of the 15 colleges that were initially awarded bachelor’s degrees were “disqualified because they were on sanction.”

Further, the accrediting body for specialized programs such as those in nursing, law and other career paths, won’t accredit those programs unless the college they’re a part of is already an accredited institution.

Winn noted that accreditors “make sure all the pieces — planning, finances, curriculum, budget,” are working together. “An institution is a holistic event,” he added.

He also noted that, while 20 or 30 years ago accreditors would focus on input — for example, “How many books do you have?” Now, they focus on outcomes, “What did students learn, how do you know, are they learning at a level aligned with programs? … Nobody counts books anymore,” said Winn.

In addition, though a college gets reaffirmed for seven years if it receives a good evaluation, he expects the board and administration to constantly be self-assessing, asking questions like, “Are we serving all students, are we identifying areas that need improvement and making those improvements, how are we assessing?” so that at the next seven-year evaluation, “you simply tell the story of what you’ve been doing the last seven years.”

Related Story – FRC board meeting highlights member accountability

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