The College of the Sequoias, at best, found itself marking the beginning of 2013 with a bang – but the wrong kind: it was informed that the college was on shaky ground with its accreditation; and, if left unimproved, could be forced to shut down. As the college readies itself for its second round of accreditation, the college’s outlook is promising.
Nine months after hiring a new superintendent and soon after finishing with its accreditation cycle, things looked good for the college – staff felt confident in the self-evaluation that they had sent to the state’s community college accreditor, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.
The President’s Office received notice on Feb. 13 that the ACCJC had placed the college on “Show Cause” sanctions: one step above the accreditor shutting the college down.
“I can honestly say this is the worst thing that would ever confront College of the Sequoias,” COS President/Superintendent Stan Carrizosa said at the time.
Since then, the college’s administrative team assembled a cross-section of staff, students and administrators dubbed the Accreditation Response Task Force (RTF). The group met regularly throughout the spring semester to collectively analyze the accreditors’ recommendations and help steer the college’s actions, and will resume activity this month to finish its Show Cause report, required to be submitted to the state’s accreditor by October.
The college’s Academic Senate also organized two “accreditation summits,” in which a wider group of staff, students, administrators and community members met to work, collaborate and gather further data to be used for the college’s self-improvement and the Show Cause report. It also hired two outside consultants.
The report must outline the steps the college took to meet the accreditors’ seven recommendations and bring itself in line with four eligibility requirements. The college must also submit with its Show Cause report a closure report, outlining how the college will dissolve itself should its changes not satisfy the accreditor.
With all the work put in by the RTF, the Academic Senate, other groups around campus and the administration, the college would be roughly 80% done, Carrizosa said, if there were a progress bar on its accreditation work.
In response to the recommendations, Carrizosa said, the college has:
- hired a Director of Research, Planning, and Institutional Effectiveness, responding to the accreditors’ recommendation that the college increase its research department, previously one person large;
- purchased “IntelliResponse,” a web-based software system that will provide “a more friendly website and a ‘one-stop shop’ for students and prospective students, thereby improving a better online experience with us,” Carrizosa said;
- purchased and implemented “TracDat” software for tracking Student Learning Outcomes, one of the areas in which the College was found to be most deficient;
- created “Governance and Decision-Making” and “Integrated Planning” manuals to address recommendations relating to each.
“Really, what we’re looking forward to now is implementing all of the things that we’ve planned and put together for the fall — fall is going to be implementation,” said Jennifer Vega La Serna, vice president of Academic Services at the college.
“This summer, we’re going to start the [Show Cause report] writing process,” La Serna said. “Most of July for several of us will be spending time writing the document, August will be editing it, September will be going through the governance structures. It will head to the board by the October board meeting for final approval, and then it will be sent to the ACCJC.”
Carrizosa and La Serna are both confident that the report and the college’s changes will satisfy the ACCJC; the only remaining question is what response the college will receive.
While the accrediting commission can choose to fully reaffirm a college’s accreditation after being placed on Show Cause sanctions, both La Serna and Carrizosa have said that it would be nearly impossible for the commission to do so, given the amount of work that the college is required to do in order to fully complete cycles necessary to show full improvement to the commission.
“The best we can realistically hope for is being placed on ‘probation’,” Carrizosa said, “or having our Show Cause extended.”
Those outcomes – which would prolong the amount of work for the college’s administration and staff – are far preferable to the alternative: a decision to revoke the college’s accreditation force the college to shut down at the end of the Spring 2014 semester.