The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities evaluation visit to Columbia Gorge Community College April 22-24, represents a critical milestone in a seven-year journey that began Aug. 8, 2006, when the college’s board of directors directed the institution to pursue independent accreditation.
Columbia Gorge Community College has been accredited since it began operating in 1977 through a contract with Portland Community College.
The college’s quest for independent accreditation, which enjoys the full support and encouragement of PCC, would bring many benefits, some of which have already been realized when CGCC achieved formal candidacy for independent accreditation in 2008:
n An institution-wide revision of processes and procedures, leading to more efficient alignment between decision-making and budgeting.
n Just as important, the college has adopted a data-driven approach to measure achievement of the college mission. College departments have identified specific measures and benchmarks to demonstrate a continuing cycle of improvement through time. Internal communications and coordination have been improved, all in keeping with formal standards established by NWCCU.
n Direct processing and awards of federal financial aid. Until recently, student financial aid requests were processed by PCC, and students received essential documentation from PCC rather than CGCC. The process could be time-consuming and at times confusing. CGCC now confers financial aid directly, with greater efficiency.
n Qualification for federal grants. CGCC’s candidacy for independent accreditation allows it to qualify for certain federal grants that would otherwise not be available. For instance, the college was one of only two institutions in Oregon to receive a $2 million U.S. Department of Education “Title III” grant in 2010. This funding allowed the college to build capacity in preparation for independent accreditation, and also supported several other improvements, such as classroom technology and a college foundation endowment challenge fund.
Should the college be granted independent accreditation, CGCC will realize additional benefits:
n Degrees and transcripts directly from CGCC.
If the college is granted independent accreditation, students will receive diplomas and transcripts from CGCC rather than PCC. This will result in less confusion for students, especially those who transfer to another community college or university, or who use a transcript for employment purposes.
n Internal decisions on new courses and programs.
New programs that respond to the Columbia Gorge region’s education and training needs can be more readily implemented through an internal review process. Currently and since CGCC’s inception, new course offerings and programs have required review and approval by PCC. Independent accreditation will allow CGCC to be more responsive to its constituents in this regard.
“The NWCCU Accreditation Standards have provided us a clear road map for improving our ability to deliver critical 21st Century knowledge, attitudes, and skills for new 21st Century challenges,” said Dr. Frank Toda, CGCC president. “Furthermore, because of the processes inherent in the standards, we now have a common definition of quality and continuous process improvement.”
This week’s visit by the NWCCU evaluation team is the fourth and final visit in the candidacy process. Evaluation team members are peers from other community colleges in the Pacific Northwest, outside of the State of Oregon. Commendations and recommendations for improvement to meet the standards of NWCCU followed each visit, and are anticipated this week as well.
Since 2006, CGCC staff, faculty, administration and board have been hard at work ensuring that systems are in place to operate a fully-functioning, independent community college (for instance: integrated student registration and financial office systems); that adequate faculty and staff are assigned to meet the needs of the students completing certificates and degrees (programs and services such as the associate transfer degree, nursing, renewable energy technology, and academic advising); and that policies and procedures are in place to provide oversight.
The evaluation team will present its findings on Wednesday, April 24. Per their process, these will not yet include a determination regarding independent accreditation.
The college will appear before the NWCCU in late June to respond to questions that may have come up during the visit,. A decision from the commission should be forthcoming by the end of July 2013.