Feds Urge Renewal for Controversial Accreditor

The U.S. Department of Education has recommended a renewal of recognition for the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, a controversial regional accreditor of two-year colleges in California and other Western states. The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, a federal panel, is slated to review ACCJC's recognition and scope at a meeting next week.

The department had given the accreditor a year to fix several problems, including concerns about the consistency of its decision making, acceptance of its policies by academics and others, and its adherence to due process in the accreditation process. During its last review of the agency, the department also denied ACCJC's request to expand its scope to overseeing new four-year degree programs at California community colleges.

Much of the criticism around ACCJC had stemmed from the agency's longstanding feud over sanctions it imposed on City College of San Francisco. But last month the accreditor renewed City College's accreditation for seven years.

California's two-year college system has been working on a recommendation made by a state task force last year to either replace the accreditor or restructure it. And in a move some insiders see as evidence that the accreditor will be changed rather than replaced, Barbara Beno, ACCJC's controversial president, in December was placed on leave prior to her scheduled retirement.

The newly released department report, which NACIQI is to consider in making its call next week, said ACCJC largely had fixed the identified problems. It recommended extending the accreditor's recognition by 18 months and lifting the limitation on its ability to oversee four-year degree programs. For example, on due process, the report said the accreditor had "revised its commission action letters to reflect a clear delineation between areas of noncompliance and areas for improvement."

The department said it received more than 120 written comments on ACCJC's review. The majority of commenters are "associated with or in support of City College of San Francisco, such as students, faculty, San Franciscans and politicians," the department said. However, many of those comments were unrelated to ACCJC's current review or were redundant, according to the department.

(Note: This article has been changed from a previous version to clarify the relationship between the department and NACIQI.)

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Presidential Home for Sale, Olive Jar Included

The University of Akron is seeking legislative approval to sell its presidential home -- the same home that the former president spent $1 million renovating, reported. Spending on the home -- while many university departments were facing budget cuts -- contributed to the unpopularity of Scott Scarborough, who resigned last year and moved out. The new president, Matthew Wilson, has opted to live in his own home.

While presidential home renovations are sometimes controversial, the Akron home's expenses drew widespread ridicule. They included $1,742 for a headboard, $2,693 for two night tables and $1,844 for a mirror. But attracting the most attention was $556.40 for a decorative olive jar (without olives). Olives became a theme of campus protests, such as a faux food bank to collect olives for the president. An Akron spokesman told that he expected the home's contents, including the olive jar, would be sold as part of any process that receives legislative approval.

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Institutional action makes a difference on community college transfer (essay)

Millions of community college students started the new school year with big plans: study for a couple of years before transferring and earning a bachelor’s degree. Meet with students on any comprehensive community college campus and you can hear the determination in their voices as they talk about their focus on getting to graduation so they can make a good life after college.

The odds are against them.

As many as 80 percent of entering community college students aspire to earn a bachelor’s degree. But research by our colleagues Davis Jenkins and John Fink of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College tells us that only 14 percent do so within six years of entering community college. What can be done to close the gap between community college student aspirations and the reality of their incredibly low transfer and bachelor’s attainment rates?

When answering this question, many tend to look for state policy solutions. State efforts to strengthen transfer outcomes by, for example, creating articulation agreements, establishing common course numbering and guaranteeing community college students’ admissions to a state university may be promising. But there is evidence that those policies alone are not capable of helping significantly more students attain a bachelor's degree. In other words, state policy matters, but something else is needed.

In the end, institutional action can and does make a big difference regardless of the policy context. And the approach of individual institutions to helping students is also much more important than the student characteristics, like socioeconomic status, that so often are assumed to drive completion rates.

CCRC’s January 2016 report published with the Aspen Institute and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that variations in transfer outcomes among two- and four-year institutions cannot be explained by institutional characteristics such as location in a city, suburb or rural area and the relative wealth of the student population. Similar groups of students at similar community colleges have very different transfer rates and levels of bachelor’s attainment. Transfer outcomes vary by state, but within states outcomes among institutions vary enormously. We cannot pin transfer outcomes to the category of institution, the type of students they serve or the state in which they are located.

This strongly suggests that what individual two- and four-year colleges and universities do matters a lot to student outcomes. It was with this research in mind that the Aspen Institute and CCRC published a Transfer Playbook, which summarizes research into the practices of highly effective two- and four-year transfer partnerships. What the research behind the playbook tells us is that achieving better transfer outcomes requires action at multiple levels both within institutions and among partners.

Within institutions, achieving exceptional outcomes necessitates action at three different levels.

  • Institutional leaders at all levels, but starting with the president, must make clear within the institution that transfer student success is a priority, reflected in guiding strategic documents, oral communications, data summaries, the college website and budgets.
  • Faculty and department heads need the tools and time to work alongside their two-year and four-year counterparts to develop clear bachelor’s degree program maps and to establish communications channels to allow consistent updates and additions to those maps as disciplines and workplaces change.
  • Student advisers, both academic and others, must have the ability to access, translate and use data on student success, knowledge of transfer pathways and requirements, and training on how to accelerate student decisions on major and four-year destination (and why that matters so much).

Success for all students who aspire to transfer requires deep change not just within institutions but in the ways institutions partner across sectors. A host of disincentives, real and perceived, impede those partnerships. And yet, the best transfer outcomes nationally are often the result of community college and four-year partners that have overcome these barriers and set common goals, established common measures of success, examined student outcome data together and crafted joint solutions to challenges their students experience while transitioning between them in ways that facilitate -- rather than impede --bachelor’s degree attainment. Ultimately, these partners understand their interdependence in accomplishing bachelor’s degree attainment goals for students who begin in community colleges.

Improving transfer outcomes can and should be a central goal of state policy. But doing so will also require engaging college professionals in changing the day-to-day practices of their colleges and universities to ensure that they prioritize transfer students’ success as a key to fulfillment of their institutions’ missions. Doing that will in turn require a redefinition of student success. Just as many higher education institutions have come to understand that access without completion is inadequate, so too must they now come to accept that -- for many students -- completion that stops short of a bachelor’s degree may fail to deliver what they came to college to achieve.

Josh Wyner is founder and executive director of the college excellence program at the Aspen Institute. Alison Kadlec is senior vice president and director of higher education and work force programs at Public Agenda.

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UT San Antonio President Placed on Leave

Ricardo Romo, longtime president of the University of Texas at San Antonio, has been placed on leave, The Texas Tribune reported. Romo was planning to retire in August. Little information is available on the reasons behind the leave, other than a university statement saying there is an investigation into "allegations related to his conduct."

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Queens College Makes Push on 4-Year Graduation

Queens College of the City University of New York is today announcing a new push to help students who enroll in the fall and beyond graduate in four years. New students who register for 15 credits a semester and stay on track will be assured that they can graduate in four years. The college will provide each participating student with an "academic map" toward four-year graduation and monitoring tools to make sure students are on schedule. In addition, the college is pledging that sections will be offered so no student will miss a four-year graduation due to being unable to enroll in a course he or she needs. Currently the six-year graduation rate (the federal rate) is 60 percent, and the four-year rate is half that.

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Krislov to move from Oberlin to Pace

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President Marvin Krislov says higher ed is changing as he prepares to move from Oberlin to Pace.

Honors Group Opens Membership to Students With Criminal Convictions

Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, a membership and scholarship organization for community college students, has extended its participation criteria to students who are incarcerated or serving probation for criminal convictions. Those criteria previously would have been disqualifying.

“It’s our desire -- our mission -- to be part of the solution to a set of very complex social problems,” Lynn Tincher-Ladner, the group's president and CEO, said in a written statement. “It’s our way of ‘unchecking the box’ -- saying to students that their mistakes shouldn’t follow them forever.”

The group cited an influential study by the Rand Corp., which found that incarcerated individuals who actively participate in higher education are far less likely to return to prison after their release. The Obama administration also referenced that study in its 2015 decision to open up federal Pell Grant aid for up to 12,000 incarcerated students as part of an experimental program. Community colleges, including Michigan's Jackson College, are among the 67 institutions that are participating in the so-called Second Chance Pell pilot.

“The goal is to open the door to opportunity to people who are starting over,” said Daniel Phelan, president of Jackson College and a member of PTK's Board of Directors, which voted last month to expand its membership.

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Fallout From Abuse Charges at Michigan State

Michigan State University on Monday announced the suspension of Kathie Klages, who is in her 27th year as women's gymnastics coach, MLive reported. The university did not indicate the reason for the suspension, but it follows allegations that a woman on her team reported concerns about treatments by the then head of sports medicine at the university and that the coach dismissed the concerns as a likely misunderstanding. Dozens of woman have sued or filed criminal complaints against the former head of sports medicine, Larry Nassar, who has been fired by the university. The suits and complaints say that he digitally penetrated their vaginas or anuses, without gloves or permission to do so. Nassar has declined to comment on the charges. Klages did not respond to requests for comment.

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Howard students protest Trump, DeVos

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As the White House and congressional Republicans plan overtures to black colleges, activists on one campus rally to bar the president from campus.

Harvard Cutting Graduate Admissions

Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is cutting the size of its incoming class. “In the process of developing the fall 2017 admissions targets in conjunction with the graduate financial aid budget, it became clear that a modest year-over-year reduction in class size would be necessary in order to ensure no disruption of support for current students,” the university said in a statement Monday, declining to share an exact percentage decrease in slots.

The decision was driven in part by lower-than-expected endowment results. Harvard announced earlier this academic year that its endowment had suffered a 2 percent, or $1.9 billion, loss, and that performance could be “muted” for some time to come. Harvard’s graduate school has relatively generous aid packages, with most Ph.D. students guaranteed funding and benefits for at least five years. At the same time, Harvard remains the world’s wealthiest university, with an endowment of $35.7 billion.

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