UCC Mainstream Online

The college’s big test:

Staff work on accreditation process now underway

UCC faculty and staff are preparing for the accreditation process. The process will be completed next year, three years sooner than expected in order for the NWCCU to be able to accommodate all the schools in the Pacific Northwest.
Jared Hegg / Mainstream
UCC faculty and staff are preparing for the accreditation process. The process will be completed next year, three years sooner than expected in order for the NWCCU to be able to accommodate all the schools in the Pacific Northwest.

Students aren’t the only ones with homework at UCC. While pupils here at UCC are writing papers and factoring polynomial equations, a handful of faculty members are prepping for a test of major importance that takes place next year: the accreditation of Umpqua Community College.

Accreditation is a required periodic school evaluation that occurs in seven year cycles. It ensures a certain level of competency and quality is being met. To examine this competency, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, our regional accreditor, will evaluate UCC’s accreditation report then bring in a team for a site visit to determine if UCC can retain its accredited status.

Ali Mageehon, dean of academic support, has been working on this process for many years, preparing reports, sifting through mountains of information and establishing UCC goals and themes. “In the fall of 2015 we will have a team of visitors here who will be reading our seven year report. In our report we will be talking about our mission, our core themes, how we assess those core themes and how we make decisions about what we want to do in the future and how we can sustain what we do in the future.”

“Right now we’re meeting to talk about our core themes. For each of those, we have to say here are our objectives for each of those areas, and here is what we would look for to see if we’ve met those objectives,” Mageehon said.

NWCCU is a peer-based organization that uses trained college staff from other institutions in the region to evaluate a college’s goals, outcome, facilities and operations. All of the evaluators are volunteers, and the commission is there to help schools meet their own stated goals and missions. The accreditation process is a lengthy and time-consuming process, according to Mageehon. Normally spread out over seven years, this round of accreditation has been squeezed into only four, creating a reduced timeline for UCC’s staff.

“In order to get everybody on the same schedule they had to compress the schedule for folks. Typically we’d have four years to work on things. Now we have two,” Mageehon said. “So chances are, we’re not  going to do things perfectly in two years. We’ll probably get some recommendations that we need to do more with some of this continuous improvement, just because we haven’t had time to do it all.”

President Joe Olson feels that the staff at UCC is doing a great job, but acknowledges that faculty turnover is one area that will be an area of concern.

“I think the job they’ve been doing has been great. There is one big challenge that I see, one of the areas that we were dinged on is administrative turnover. I am personally committed to developing potential candidates from within to maintain some continuity of service to students,” Olson said. “Anytime there is an interruption in presidential leadership or vice-presidential leadership during that transition process, the whole mission of the college can be challenged. The whole commitment of student success can be challenged.”

Rick Aman, vice-president of student services, has been on both sides of the process. He has been a peer-reviewer working for the NWCCU — the same organization that will be looking into UCC’s accreditation — and he helped with the accreditation process at the College of Western Idaho in Boise. He found the experience of looking at another school’s methods very valuable.

“You get to go into a colleague’s school and look at how they solve the problem of accreditation. There’s nothing more valuable than to go out and see how another school works in instruction or student services,” Aman said. “It makes me a lot better when I come back to my home institutions because I know what evaluators are looking for.”

According to the NWCCU website, the accreditation process should be reflective and self-evaluative, giving all members of a school an opportunity to study how to improve every aspect of the institution’s operation.

“One of the primary areas I represent is student services, all of the functions that deal with student success and retention. There are a number of new hopefully valuable programs UCC is going to be putting into place,” Aman said. Accreditors will look at these new programs as well as UCC’s traditional offerings

“[Analysis of a student’s] first year experience is something we really haven’t done before outside of the TOP program. Peer mentors would be a really good, proven approach to help students stay in school. A lot of effort is going to be put into tutoring. We have a lot of those kind of things, as well as improvements in financial aid and making sure students can get through that maze faster.”

The accreditation visit is still over a year away, but much work is being done now to improve students’ experiences in preparation for the review. Even though UCC is not a big school, it is still a complex and multifaceted organization, and studying its many layers requires a large amount of time, energy and focus.