Final word came down from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) this week, officially putting East Central College’s accreditation “on notice.”
The ruling from the HLC board is an improvement from the probationary accreditation status that was originally recommended by the team that visited ECC in 2017.
Several months after the team’s visit, a recommendation that the college be put on probation for failure to meet standards set by the HLC in various areas was announced.
The team’s report outlined problem areas within the college’s handling of teaching and learning, criteria three and four; and resources, planning and institutional effectiveness, 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.
Since then, the college has taken many steps to remedy the concerns brought forward by the HLC. Several task forces and commissions were formed to find solutions to the issues that were identified by the team.
An “on notice” status is a sanction from the HLC stating that an institution’s accreditation is at risk of being out of compliance. While on notice, the college remains accredited and has a two-year period to remedy the issues that led to the sanction.
ECC President Dr. Jon Bauer said while the college has made strides toward remedying the issues put before the college by the HLC, the work is far from over.
“I think the steps that we’ve taken already have begun to address those issues,” Bauer said. “But there’s still much more work ahead than behind.”
Near the end of the sanction period, an HLC team will again visit the college to observe and determine whether those problem areas have been remedied.
Bauer said this visit will occur no later than December 2019.
He noted that the college would have an opportunity for a mock visit where an HLC liaison would be on hand to determine how the college would do in its real visit. That visit could prove an important step on the road to full accreditation.
The college also will be required to provide evidence it has addressed the issues that led to the sanction no later than Oct. 1, 2019.
There are six core components of two criteria the college must improve upon to avoid further sanctions by the HLC. ECC must improve its ongoing assessment efforts, student retention and completion rates, shared governance, systematic and integrated planning and systematic improvement of its performance.
If those issues are remedied, the HLC sanction would be lifted and ECC’s accreditation would be fully restored. However, if problems persist, the probation sanction could return.
Rarely Affects Credits
According to the HLC’s release on ECC’s sanction, in most cases other colleges will continue to accept ECC credits in transfer or for admission to a higher degree program.
All colleges and universities, however, define their own transfer and admission policies.
The HLC urged students to contact colleges or universities they plan to attend on ECC credits to make sure they’ll be accepted as a “better safe than sorry” strategy.
Confident Going Forward
Bauer said he’s confident the entire college and its community is behind the effort to fix the issues at ECC. He said the changes coming will benefit the college as a whole.
“We’re certainly committed, I know the board is and the faculty and staff are committed to taking the steps and taking the actions necessary to fully meet the criteria,” he said. “We are accredited. We meet the criteria for accreditation and we know that we have various things we need to work on to be a stronger institution and we’ll certainly do that.”
Board of Trustees President Ann Hartley echoed Bauer’s statement and said the work that has been done wouldn’t have been possible without the work of so many at the college.
“I think that it’s important that we acknowledge how many people have been working on this on top of their normal duties,” Hartley said. “We had a recommendation that was going to cause us great concern and that has now been improved. That does reflect the hard work that has been done and the accomplishments that have come.”