Jennifer Somers | Editor
During a visit to campus in October of 2017, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) found that East Central College did not meet the criteria required to maintain accreditation and recommended that the college be placed on probationary status.
The HLC is ECC’s regional accrediting agency. The organization accredits degree-granting postsecondary educational institutions, like ECC, in the 19 states located within the North Central region of the U.S.
There are five criterion by which the commission determines whether an institution merits accreditation or reaffirmation of accreditation.
Criterion one is that the institution must make its mission clear and public. Criterion two says the institution’s conduct must be ethical and responsible. Criterion three is that the institution should provide high quality education in all areas it delivers. Criterion four says the institution must demonstrate responsibility and continuously promote improvement for its educational programs, learning environments and support services. Lastly, criterion five says the institution should assess its resources and processes for efficiency, improve the quality of its educational offerings and respond to future challenges and opportunities.
After visiting, the HLC stated in its report that ECC fully met criterion one and two but met criterion three and four with concerns and failed to meet criterion five.
ECC, since receiving the report of the HLC in November, has been developing a written response. This response will acknowledge the concerns of the commission and detail the measures the college will be taking in the future to comply with their requests.
ECC’s HLC Task Force, which was implemented in Spring 2017 to prepare for the HLC’s visit, has been working to develop a plan of action.
The Task Force has split into sub-committees in order to handle the reaffirmation process, each one working to create plans that deal with its specific area of expertise in the college.
“It’s clear to me that our employees are committed to addressing the challenges that were outlined in the report” Board of Trustees Director Cookie Hays said.
An example of this commitment, English instructor Sue Henderson’s sub-committee, made up of around 11 faculty and staff members, focused on the college’s assessment process.
“For many years, the HLC has been saying that [ECC] hasn’t had a systematic approach to institutional-wide assessment,” Henderson said at the Jan. 22 Board of Trustees meeting. “In the future, we hope to establish an office of institutional effectiveness that would ensure that we don’t just have a campus master plan but also make sure that the plan is driving planning and decision making.”
The written response will be submitted before a hearing by the HLC governing board in late April, where ECC will be able show that it has taken into account the feedback of the commission and is actively working to improve itself to meet each of the five criterion.
The purpose of the hearing will be to determine whether or not the institution is placed on probation. Depending on its performance in the hearing, ECC could be placed on notice, a two-year period for the college to address the HLC’s concerns, or show-cause, a one-year period for the college to present its case for continued accreditation. The HLC’s final determination could come as late as fall.
According to President Dr. Jon Bauer, if the college was placed on probation, students would not have to worry.
“[ECC] would remain fully accredited,” Bauer said. “Students should know that they will still get financial aid, scholarships will not be affected in any way and their credits will transfer. The quality of instruction and programs will remain unaffected.”
Although probation doesn’t directly translate to loss of accreditation, ECC could potentially lose its accreditation if the committee were to find that the college did not make any improvements during a probation period.
Loss of accreditation would mean that the college would no longer be eligible to receive federal or state financial aid, student’s credits might not be accepted at other institutions and the future employers of students might be inclined to choose a different applicant coming from a more reputable school instead.
Though the HLC’s decision looms over the future of the college and its students, Dr. Bauer remains optimistic about ECC’s resilience and ability to retain its accreditation.
“I’m convinced that working to address the concerns the [HLC] team found after visiting is an opportunity for us, as an institution, to improve,” Dr. Bauer said. “[Once the reaffirmation process is completed], [ECC] will be a better institution than [it is] today.”