A Higher Learning Commission team that visited East Central College last year is currently recommending the college be put on probation due to several areas of concern with the college’s internal operations.
The college, which was last accredited in 2011, has time to fight the probation recommendation over the coming months.
A special meeting of the ECC Board of Trustees was held Monday night to discuss the findings and for President Dr. Bauer to update the board on the steps to be taken to overturn the HLC recommendation.
The HLC team made the evaluations through five criteria that judge how well the college is being operated. A criterion can be met, met with concerns, or not met entirely. The ECC only met two of the commission’s criterion.
The visit, which is a routine part of maintaining the college’s accreditation, resulted in a report that outlined problem areas within the college’s handling of teaching and learning, criteria three and four; and resources, planning and institutional effectiveness, criterion five.
The college met criteria one and two, which addresses mission and integrity, but only met criteria three and four with concerns, and did not meet criterion five.
Specific problems included a lack of shared governance and communication throughout the college; rare assessments and evaluations for faculty and staff; absence of data-driven decision making by the administrative staff; no plan for retention, completion and persistence goals; a disconnect between administration and faculty and staff; and several other areas of concern.
Bauer described the team’s findings as a wake-up call for himself and his colleagues at the college and that the past weeks have been spent springing into action to remedy the issues noted in the report.
“We’re responding not just to address the areas of concern, but also to do everything we can to demonstrate we can meet the criteria for accreditation,” he said. “We’ve been working diligently to identify those things that can be done immediately.”
Board member Cookie Hays, who also is working on several boards created to address the HLC concerns, said it’s important the college take the report seriously.
“East Central has many assets and strengths, but right now we’ve got to focus on the HLC concerns by making some real systematic changes,” she said.
The college will have a hearing in April, according to Bauer, where the HLC will decide whether probation is deemed necessary, or a lesser or greater status is necessary.
Leading up to that hearing, the college will work to compose a response to the team’s findings.
If the college fails to overturn the recommendation, it will enter probational status for the next two years. During that span, the college would be tasked with correcting some of the areas the HLC team designated as needing improvement or not meeting the commission standards.
Bauer noted several areas of improvement the college plans to try to remedy in the next several months include developing a new strategic plan, documenting processes, implementing an institution-wide assessment plan, enhancing campus-wide communications, developing shared governance, developing retention, completion and persistence goals, ensuring decision making is data driven and ensuring faculty and staff evaluation occur regularly.
Bauer said students and the college’s community won’t feel the effects of a probation, if the college were to fail to overturn the HLC team’s recommendation.
For students and other college community members, financial aid, scholarships, credit value and the quality of ECC wouldn’t change, he stressed, if the college were placed on probation.
“It’s important people know we remain accredited and that the quality of our programs remains outstanding,” he said. “Students can come here with confidence, knowing that they’re going to receive quality education and be able to take the credits they earn here and use them to earn a degree, transfer to an institution, participate in scholarships and in financial aid.”
Bauer added that while the findings from the HLC were hard to swallow, he believes ECC will come out stronger because of them.
“We see this as a way to strengthen as an institution,” he said. “I’m convinced we will come through this stronger. It will take a lot of hard work — it will take a lot of commitment to get this done.”
Vice President of Academic Affairs Tia Robinson said it’s important the college uses the information in the report to better understand not only its future, but also its present and past situation.
She said having an understanding of how the institution got to its current state is an important part of the process.
ECC National Education Association President Sue Henderson added that it’s important the board and the administration not focus on a solution for the next few years, but for the long term. She said some faculty and staff worry the problems will only be fixed in the short term.
“Many people in this institution have been trying to do this work for a long time,” Henderson said.
For many of us, when we read this report, it wasn’t a surprise,” she said. “Our concern is what’s going to be different from this point. There’s still concern about how fundamentally things will change and how fundamentally things have to change.”
Board President Ann Hartley said that the faculty and staff can be assured that the board of trustees will be taking the issues seriously and looking into the long term.
“Starting from here, watch what we do,” Hartley said. “That’s all I can say and that’s all I can ask.”