By Chris Cunningham
The Scene staff
It’s easy to write off the accreditation process as a bunch of bureaucratic red tape, but the stakes are high.
If St. Louis Community College wasn’t accredited, students wouldn’t be able to get financial aid or have their credits transferred to four-year universities.
“The accreditation process might seem a big dry, but this is really important,” said Brenda French, Forest Park accreditation liaison.
The entire STLCC district is preparing for an evaluation next year by the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits colleges and universities in 19 states, including Missouri.
The process takes place every 10 years.
“I can’t say it is stressful,” said Forest Park Provost Larry Johnson. “I have served in the role of evaluating a college before, so I already have prior experience.”
At this stage, administrators, faculty and staff are updating records and compiling information on the Forest Park, Meramec, Florissant Valley and Wildwood campuses.
Commission representatives will visit in February.
“It is a big event that they are coming for – the 10-year accreditation – but the work is every day,” said Ame Mead Roach, dean of humanities and social science. “We need to operate in a way that makes the student the focus. What we have been doing in the last 10 years is what they are looking for.”
If standards aren’t met, colleges are given probationary periods to make improvements.
“Of course, there are a billion steps between here and no financial aid,” Roach said. “It is not like a light switch.”
The commission decides what is the appropriate probationary period.
“It would be fairly lengthy, not months,” said Denis White, Florissant Valley professor of reading and English who co-chairs the college’s HLC Self-Study Committee. “After the visit in 2018, there will be one in 2022, so it could be that they wait until then.”
The commission bases evaluations on five criteria. The college has formed a committee for each.
Committees are creating reports that will be submitted to the commission as one document called an “assurance argument” in November. Its length is capped at 3,500 words.
“It is the most important document right now,” said Linda Hubble, learning experience consultant/course accessibility specialist at Forest Park.
Hubble and mathematics professor James Munden are co-chairing the committee for criteria No. 3, which is Teaching and Learning: Quality, Resources and Support.
They feel it’s the most important criteria for the college.
“We are looking at processes that have needed fixing for years,” Munden said.
He describes the committee work as a positive experience.
“You get to see how the college operates on a global level,” he said. “You get an opportunity to interact with staff you wouldn’t normally, plus other campuses, which I think is important.
“It is a lot of work,” he added. “But it pays off on in the end. Hopefully, I can improve the teaching and learning at the college.”
Hubble sees the accreditation process as an opportunity for employees to get a refresher on the college’s mission and their place in it.
“It reminds us why we choose to teach here and why we choose to work with students,” she said.
French encourages students to participate in the process by filling out an online survey that will be emailed to them next semester.
“The survey tells (the commission) what’s the quality of our classes, their student experience and if they would recommend STLCC to others,” she said.