ACCJC Seeking to Patch Up Relationship with California Community Colleges - Higher Education
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ACCJC Seeking to Patch Up Relationship with California Community Colleges

by Catherine Morris

The relationship between California’s 113 community colleges and their accreditor, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACCJC), has been tense for years. According to an August report from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, the ACCJC issues a disproportionate number of sanctions compared to the six other regional accreditors.

The ACCJC also faced widespread criticism of its sanctions against the City College of San Francisco (CCSF), which some say caused CCSF’s total enrollment to drop by nearly 8,000 students in 2013.

Now the ACCJC is saying that it will work with community college CEOs to improve accreditation processes. “The new partnership will allow workgroup members to actively solicit inputs from college administrators, faculty and staff,” ACCJC President Barbara A. Beno told Diverse in an email on Wednesday night.

In an emailed statement sent out early on Wednesday morning and currently available on the organization’s website, the ACCJC said that Beno had met with Los Rios Community College District Chancellor Brian King and Contra Costa Community College District Chancellor Helen Benjamin last week.

“We hope to find a way to communicate the voice of California community colleges CEOs with the commission on areas of improvement,” King told Diverse.

The ACCJC oversees approximately 130 colleges in California, Hawaii, the United States territories of Guam and American Samoa, the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The majority of ACCJC institutions are located in California.

“The new ACCJC/CCCCEO team will provide fresh ideas and best practices to further strengthen the commission’s ongoing efforts to align accreditation standards and operations to the changing needs of regional colleges,” Beno wrote.

The statement from the ACCJC comes in the wake of major upheavals among the leaders of the California institutions that the ACCJC accredits.

An August report from the Community College Chancellor’s Office recommended seeking out an alternative accreditor. In March, California’s community college CEOs initiated a more formal process toward transitioning away from the ACCJC, while simultaneously considering improvements for a better working relationship with the ACCJC.

To that end, community college CEOs formed two working groups at a March 14 meeting. One group is tasked with seeking out a replacement accreditor and the other is working with ACCJC on implementing improvements.

The transition to another accreditor, if such an event were to occur, would be a lengthy process and could take up to five to six years to complete. At a California Community Colleges Board of Governors meeting on March 21, the board approved a resolution that directs the CEOs to work with the ACCJC to develop short-term improvements as a stopgap measure.

No final decision has yet been made on whether the community colleges will begin the process of breaking with the ACCJC. It is expected that such an announcement will be made sometime this summer.

“In the short term, there are great opportunities to improve our model for accreditation in response to recent challenges,” King said. “So the question about changing to a different accreditor is more of a long-term analysis of how to better align the accrediting process for all of higher education in the western region.”

The move toward a short-term rapprochement between the ACCJC and community college CEOs has not affected a reconciliation between the ACCJC and other community college stakeholders, such as faculty members. “Speaking on behalf of the Faculty Association, we’re excited to move forward with some potential new options for the accrediting system that meet our needs currently,” said Austin Webster, director of communications at the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges (FACCC).

 

Staff writer Catherine Morris can be reached at cmorris@diverseeducation.com.

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