Just as the dust begins to settle and faculty leaders think their colleges might just meet the 2012 deadline the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) has set for student learning outcomes, program review, and planning, the ground threatens to move again. In the Summer 2011 issue of ACCJC News*, the ACCJC announced that it had begun the decennial review and possible updating of accreditation standards. It further indicated that it had invited Peter Ewell (Vice President of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, or NCHEMS) to meet with the commission in June 2011 to share his views on current trends in federal expectations regarding accreditation and accountability.
The ACCJC has indicated that it will be more forthcoming about the process for revisions to the standards in the next few months. This year’s Academic Senate Accreditation Committee considered proposing a Fall 2011 resolution calling for significant faculty involvement in the process, only to realize that the Senate has been on record as supporting that position for a decade (see Resolution 2.02 F01). The 2011-12 Accreditation Committee hopes to be vigilant in keeping faculty concerns regarding accreditation before the ACCJC.
The ACCJC’s many observations regarding the struggle of all regional accreditors to stay abreast of federal demands have seemed increasingly prescient in light of the attention focused on for-profit colleges in Washington over the past year. In its search for increased accountability, the federal Department of Education has promulgated new requirements for all institutions of higher education, whether for-profit or public. These requirements include such issues as distance education, calculation of the credit hour, and “gainful employment.” Faculty members who are also members of The Faculty Association of California Community Colleges (FACCC) have an additional resource for keeping themselves current in the form of FACCC’s “The Weekly,” which regularly includes updates on issues being addressed in both Sacramento and Washington. The ACCJC has offered some good news in the past year: the commission reported in its summer newsletter that sanctions related to program review, planning, and internal governance have declined, in some areas by over 50%. However, sanctions related to fiscal woes and board governance have increased.
The Academic Senate has struggled with the ACCJC’s position that it is accountable only to its member colleges and not to the Academic Senate as a body representing all California community college faculty at the state level. Recently, however, the commission has shown signs that it is seeking to better communicate the challenges to accreditors in mediating between increasingly insistent federal demands for improved outcomes and the struggle of perpetually underfunded and sometimes leadership-challenged colleges to meet those standards. The ACCJC participated in the annual CIO Conference last year and will be partnering with the Academic Senate in presenting this year’s Accreditation Institute, February 10-11 in Anaheim.
So what is next on the Accreditation horizon? Demands for colleges to do more with fewer resources will likely continue. Community colleges will continue to be bycatch in nets intended to trap abuse by for-profit colleges. Nevertheless, faculty as professional educators are in the best position to turn half-hearted compliance into meaningful academic policy and practice that truly benefits the students we serve. We hope to see some of you in Anaheim in February at the Accreditation Institute and we look forward to continuing to support the leadership faculty provide for our colleges.