Board not on same page with accreditation

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Thomas Cleary, Northeast Lakeview College president, talks about the accreditation issues at the board meeting Jan. 17 at Killen. Cleary said merging all colleges into one accreditation is not the best approach for students. Photo by Deandra Gonzalez

Branding of the Alamo Colleges continues to be a source of contention.

By Zachary-Taylor Wright

zwright9@student.alamo.edu

The board of trustees debated the impact of single accreditation on student success and accommodating the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges recommendations at the Jan. 17 meeting.

District 9 trustee Jim Rindfuss said he reviewed the recommendations made by SACSCOC and believes the best way to accommodate the recommendations is to have the district accredited.

Lisa Zottarelli, SACSCOC liaison for this college, said colleges and universities are accredited by SACSCOC and districts cannot be accredited.

If the district were to pursue individual accreditation, the five colleges would need to be consolidated into one college.

SACSCOC found this college and St. Philip’s and Northwest Vista Colleges in violation of six Comprehensive Standards, including branding, leadership policy, handling of transfer credits, and the calculation of grade-point averages.

Rindfuss said attempting to fix the five individually accredited colleges feels like patchwork, saying students grade-point averages will be negatively affected by having intra-district credits separated from students’ home college grade-point averages.

Rindfuss said the board risks regressing back to the state it was in when he joined the trustees in May 1996, saying the district has increased enrollment by 230 percent.

Rindfuss said this increase in enrollment has shown a uniform system is effective, and SACSCOC is asking the board to divide the district again.

Rindfuss said the board could save the district a lot of money by pursuing single accreditation.

District 2 trustee Denver McClendon argued it was the inappropriate time to discuss single accreditation and single accreditation is the inappropriate opinion, reminding Rindfuss students are able to transfer in-district credits under individual accreditation.

McClendon said students can easily transition from colleges within the district without issue, saying the problem has been resolved over the past year by separating home-campus grade-point averages from “institutional” grade-point averages.

Rindfuss asked Dr. Thomas Cleary, vice chancellor of planning, performance, accreditation and information systems and Northeast Lakeview College interim president, if SACSCOC’s recommendations could be met by pursuing single accreditation and if it was best for students.

Cleary said single accreditation is a plausible approach, but the impact on students is up for discussion.

Cleary said individual accreditation would make transcripts easier to compile, but there are economical and political issues surrounding the pursuance of individual accreditation.

Cleary said he would recommend single accreditation if the district were starting today, but the district “grew up” as individual colleges.

McClendon reminded Rindfuss an Accreditation Review Committee was charged in late 2009 with studying the effects of single accreditation and individual accreditation, saying the committee unanimously agreed individual accreditation best served the colleges’ varying demographics.

McClendon also reminded Rindfuss the committee found St. Philip’s College would lose millions of dollars in Title 3B grants awarded for the college’s status as a Historically Black College or University and Hispanic-Serving Institution if single accreditation was pursued.

District 8 trustee Clint Kingsbery said merging the colleges into a single accreditation would be very difficult, referencing a college in South Texas that had a difficult time merging.

Kingsbery, who was not present for the Jan. 10 committee of the whole meeting, asked for an update on SACSCOC’s branding recommendations and how the board planned to accommodate the recommendations.

SACSCOC’s Comprehensive Standard 3.13.4b states an institution that is part of a system must have a description of the system’s operation to help the agency’s peer review committee understand the role of the system and the institution’s role in that system, which is the agency’s basis for recommending the district change branding.

Cleary said the agency indicated there was a perception among the SACSCOC committee members that it was difficult to distinguish the colleges’ individual accreditation in the student handbook.

Cleary said the colleges’ branding is confusing because it says “Alamo Collleges” and asked SACSCOC for specific recommendations, which the agency declined.

Cleary said the board suggested branding tactics to accommodate the agency’s recommendations to SACSCOC representatives, who made a point to clarify they do not represent the agency’s board of trustees.

Cleary said the agency’s representatives suggested using “Alamo Colleges District” on any materials current or potential students might see would accommodate SACSCOC’s recommendations.

Cleary said the branding recommendation is the toughest of the six standards to accommodate.

Chancellor Bruce Leslie said the board plans to follow the University of Texas’ model of branding, where the university’s name is listed before the specific location.

Leslie said the rebranding eight years ago was to make the public aware of the Alamo Community College District and all of the colleges that compose it.

Leslie said the public knew this college but was unable to name Palo Alto College or any of the other four colleges that compose the Alamo Community College District.

Board Chair Yvonne Katz, District 7 trustee, said SACSCOC seems comfortable with the board “taking the ‘District’ from ACCD and adding it to “Alamo Colleges District,” saying it brands the district as a family of individually accredited colleges.

Kingsbery questioned if any of the board members were cognizant of potential accreditation concerns when the new branding was suggested and if changing the branding to include “Alamo Colleges District” could present the same accreditation issues.

Chancellor Bruce Leslie discusses the funds that would be used for rebranding the district “Alamo Colleges” to “Alamo Colleges District” at the board meeting Jan. 17 at Killen. Leslie said he would try to make an inexpensive change to the name to accomodate the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Colleges’ recommendations. Photo by Deandra Gonzalez

Leslie said the Alamo Community College District never changed its legal name and thought branding the colleges as “Alamo Colleges” with the college name showed the district was a family of individually accredited colleges, saying SACSCOC did not mention a concern with the branding 10 years go.

District 3 trustee Ana Bustamante took issue with Leslie’s reference to the University of Texas.

Bustamante said Leslie should not compare the district’s branding to a university, considering it is a community college district and said the Dallas and Austin community college districts retained “community college” in their branding.

Bustamante asked if the college signs would be altered to include “Alamo Colleges District” and if the college name would be placed above the district title.

Leslie said the district did not spend a large amount of money to rebrand the colleges eight years ago, because John Strybos, associate vice chancellor of facilities operation and construction management, used plastic on the signs to save money.

Leslie said he hopes the board will not have to pursue expensive rebranding to meet SACSCOC’s recommendations, saying the agency did not send a team to test or survey the community on their perception of the colleges’ accreditation and the agency “simply perceived the branding as not clear of the accreditation system.”

Kingsbery said the district is at the mercy of SACSCOC if this college and St. Philip’s and Northwest Vista Colleges are to maintain accreditation, saying it is necessary to change the branding if the agency asks the board to do so.

Kingsbery reminded the board that the branding has no meaning or value if the colleges lose their accreditation and that SACSCOC’s job is to be detail-oriented.

Kingsbery said the district is now recognizable, which he said he’s happy about, and the “Alamo Colleges” branding may need to be considered an advertising cost.

Kingsbery said the board and the presidents of this college and St. Philip’s and Northwest Vista Colleges are responsible for meeting SACSCOC’s recommendations, saying the board needs to be able to address the public on SACSCOC’s recommendations and what the district is doing to accommodate them.

Kingsbery said he is confident in the board and presidents’ efforts in accommodating the agency’s recommendations.

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