In August a team to complete the self study report was called together. The team was primarily composed of the chairs of the four self study groups formed in August 2002. The four groups were organized around the four accreditation standards. Discussion quickly revealed that little progress had been made on the self study report since January 2003. Some groups were still in the process of gathering in surveys, and one group, Standard two, had apparently not met or accomplished much as a group since fall 2002. The chair of Standard two did not attend the early August self study meetings. Some members of Standard had proceeded with efforts in their subareas on their own.
As a result of these early meetings, the Accreditation Liaison Officer recommended that the chair Standard two be relieved of their self study duties. When approached, the chair stepped aside. In retrospect, no one person should have been tasked with all of Standard two. The task was simply too great for any single committee. Future self study efforts should also consider separating two into its three component parts. While this runs contrary to the intent of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, the amount of material in Standard two is simply far too onerous for any one team to take on the whole task.
The decision was made to break standard two into three separate groups each with their own chair or co-chairs. The result was a team of the following leads working on the self study.
Note that at the recommendation of the Executive Director of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities standards are being treated as a fifth standard.
The self study team has now produced a rough draft. There remains much work to be done with the rough drafts in order to produce a final draft and the team will continue to work towards that goal. The team is presently looking at having a final draft produced by sometime in November. Some sections will likely be completed during October.
One of the goals of the Accreditation Liaison Officer is to produce the first self study that is more than simply a static document that sits on a shelf. For the document to be truly useful and broadly available, the document is and will be available on line. In some instances the on line version will include hypertextual links to on line evidence. Work in progress and self study related documents are on line at: http://www.comfsm.fm/~dleeling/alo/alo.html
The self study, under standard one, will recommend that the Accreditation Liaison Officer (ALO) position be separated from the position of the Director of Research and Planning. The self study notes the turn-over in the Director of Research and Planning position and argues that the position will continue to see turn-over. The self study also notes that appropriately chosen faculty may provide more stability and have served with distinction in the ALO capacity in the past.
The new ACCJC standards are based heavily on assessment of student learning. This means that the institutional researcher will be a central figure in assessment and in ensuring the institution meets the new standards. Having a Director of Research and Planning (DRP) who is also the ALO creates an effective conflict of interest: a DRP who is also ALO and self study coordinator will not be considered an impartial evaluator of their own assessment efforts over the prior six years.
This separation of the ALO responsibilities will also make the job of the Director of Research and Planning more manageable. Part of the reason the self study effort went dormant was that the Acting Director of Research and Planning was tasked with producing eligibility reports, substantive change reports, research that supported those reports, performance based budgets with associated strategic goals, overseeing sponsored programs, overseeing the shift to a student learning outcomes assessment regime, and dozens of other smaller projects.
A faculty member as Accreditation Liaison Officer would be given partial load release time from classes on an ongoing basis as compensation. This would allow the ALO to carry out the other important aspects of the position such as communicating the standards to other faculty and promoting accreditation on campus. These tasks are tasks that no Director of Research and Planning has had the time to accomplish. Yet the ACCJC has made it clear that the ALO position is not a "once in six years important" position: it should be active each and every year. This has not been true and will not become true under a future Director of Research and Planning. The DRP position has been given too many tasks to accomplish.
A teaching member of the faculty is in possibly the best position to bring the meaning of the standards to other teaching faculty. The effectiveness of being a colleague-leader was shown by the Title III Math Science Specialist during the 1995 to 2000 Title III grant. Faculty buy-in is easier to achieve if the person asking for the buy-in is sharing the load and experiences of the classroom. A faculty ALO would also be able to pass along information learned at other ACCJC institutions.
As the ACCJC now sees the whole institution in the light of how each unit contributes to learning, the ALO could even be a member of a non-faculty unit. A lead member of the Learning Resource Center, or the lead of a student services unit could also serve effectively in the position. Such decisions would be up to the College leadership.
A proposal was made in September 2003 to integrate the functions of the presently dormant Assessment committee into the existing and active Curriculum committee and Student Services committee. This was as a result of the realization that to close the academic assessment loop that is made up of curriculum planning, development, approval, deployment, assessment, and redevelopment, the Assessment committee would have to be identical to the Curriculum committee in composition.
The assessment loop is not currently closed by design: curriculum and programs are discussed in and initially approved by the Curriculum committee. Assessment is reported into the Assessment committee. This creates a physical separation of the events that no amount of communication effort can fully bridge.
The proposal would also include having the student support services assessments reported into the existing student services committee.
At the core to the effort to improve courses and programs is assessment of student learning. Assessment permits data and fact driven decisions at the course level, program level, degree level, and institutional level. These assessments are assessments of student learning outcomes. Yet at the course level, and the program level, as envisioned in Language and Literature, Education, Social Science, and the Natural Science and Mathematics division, student learning outcome assessment will be done either by the faculty or by the chair.
This proposed change helps redistribute load away from an over burdened central researcher and planner, without necessarily overloading the chairs. Assessment would move from a centralized research office out into the corridors and offices of academia.
The existing separate Assessment committee would no longer exist under this proposal. The self study documents in detail the instability and long periods of dormancy that the Institutional Effectiveness/Assessment committee has experienced.
Neither the Curriculum committee, nor the Student Services committee, have had the same stability over time difficulties. Both are headed by Vice Presidents, positions that have remained stable over time at the College.
The College's current structure consists of three committees:
This proposal would result in there being two committees with assessment integrated into the existing committees:
The Personnel Officer would make an annual assessment report to the Personnel Committee, while the Comptroller would report their annual assessment to the Finance Committee.
The Planning Council has been dormant for over a year. The self study notes that Planning Council membership consists of traditional, national, state, community, and religious leaders. The meetings became so frequent as to become burdensome. The self study recommends that the Planning Council be even more inclusive and meet once a year to provide true strategic guidance to the College as opposed to making tactical decisions.
There is an additional need to reactivate the Planning Council, but to also make membership less onerous. Planning Council should be a very broad and inclusive annual event with participants from all sectors. Planning Council should be tasked with strategic planning as opposed to tactical planning and mission implementation. The annual meeting could be published in the catalog. Greatly reducing the number of meetings could also allow the College to bring in leaders from the other islands. The cost of bringing together people in this nation cannot be underestimated. Flying state and community leadership from Yap costs on the order of $1000 round trip per person. This is no small obstacle to convening a truly inclusive Planning Council (Self Study IA3 Planning Agenda).
In September the Accreditation Liaison Officer traveled to an Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) conference in Honolulu. The conference included an orientation session for Accreditation Liaison Officers and a workshop on Assessment. A detailed trip report is available at: http://www.comfsm.fm/~dleeling/alo/meetings/honolulu.html.
The sessions introduced the new standards and new expectations of the Commission. These are available on line at: http://www.accjc.org or upon request from the College ALO.
The key central themes are assessment of student learning outcomes, cyclical evaluation-planning-improvement, integrity, adequate resources, and dialogue. The latermost refers to an ongoing participation in self-reflection on the college's programs and services. The Honolulu conference noted that the emphasis in the standards on assessment of student learning and dialog were newer themes.
Student learning is to be measured by achievement of student learning outcomes at the course, program, and institutional level. Dialog is best captured by the following excerpt from the "Guide to Evaluating Institutions Using ACCJC Standards."
The standards are designed to facilitate college engagement in inclusive, informed, and intentional dialogue about institutional quality and improvement. The dialogue should purposefully guide institutional change. All members of the college community should participate in this reflection and exchange about student achievement, student learning, and the effectiveness of its processes, policies, and organization. For the dialogue to have its intended effect, it should be based on reliable information about the college’s programs and services and evidence on how well the institution is meeting student needs. Information should be quantitative and qualitative, responsive to a clear inquiry, meaningfully interpreted, and broadly communicated. The institutional dialogue should result in ongoing self-reflection and conscious improvement.
The conference also provided a unique networking opportunity with other Accreditation Liaison Officers and institutional leaders.
The College leadership and the Accreditation Liaison Officer had requested a side meeting with Executive Director Barbara Beno. This meeting occurred Thursday afternoon at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki. In attendance were Executive Director Barbara Beno, President Michael Tatum, Vice President Spensin James, Chair Richard Womack, Chair Howard Rice, and the Accreditation Liaison Officer Dana Lee Ling.
The meeting focused on the self study process and its relationship with the application for the Bachelor's of Elementary Education.
Director Beno noted, as she had in the workshop, that the granting of accreditation to a single Bachelor's degree was strictly an experiment. That one College had been granted a single four year program did not mean that this procedure was policy. The ACCJC was examining requests on a case by case basis. By this point in the week it was clear that nearly every community college in the Pacific was planning a single fourth year program. The ACCJC had opened up a floodgate and were somewhat unprepared for the demand.
The intent of the experiment was to protect community colleges' identity from the over-influence they would experience if they had to accredit under the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities (ACSCU) for a single four year program.
When asked whether we needed to file a separate report covering the ACSCU eligibility requirements and standards that are not matched by ACCJC eligibility requirements and standards, the Director said no. She noted that the ACSCU material should be in the self study and not as an addendum but rather as a integral part of the self study.
The Director was asked about the intent of the non-acceptance of the substantive change. She noted that the process was that the ACCJC looked at the application first and did the bulk of the evaluation work. Apparently the Director had previously served on the Senior commission and was familiar with the types of things that would cause concern. The ACCJC consulted with the ACSCU and, as a result, preemptively asked for further information on the English programs at the College. The ACCJC expected questions from the ACSCU, hence the ACCJC refused to accept the Bachelor's of Education Substantive Change pending answers to those questions.
The Director noted that the ACSCU was not familiar with schools that had the type of large developmental English programs such as those at COMFSM.
The decision was made at the table to call the senior standards "Standard five" and to put them in the self study that way.
The Director recommended reading the 1995 article in "Changes" entitled "From Teaching to Learning."
The team that will visit the College will consist of six members, three from Junior Commission colleges and three from Senior Commission colleges.
Discussion then turned to specific topics. The Director was asked whether a single campus being non-compliant would endanger the accreditation of the whole system. This led to a lengthy discussion.
During this discussion it was made clear that the College of Micronesia-FSM is not a multi-campus system in the eyes of the commission. The College is considered a single system by the ACCJC. Thus any one unit affects the accreditation of the whole system.
The specific example cited to the Director was a question that asked whether a single campus not meeting physical resources standards could lead to the whole institution being found to be non-compliant with the standards. The Director said yes.
The Director was posed the scenario in which a campus is non-compliant with the standards but is making diligent efforts to upgrade, albeit with limited success, would the effort being made make a difference to the commission? The Director said the effort would make a difference, but that the non-compliant campus would have to be compliant by the time of the next accreditation visit - which for the College of Micronesia-FSM is in March 2004.
At this point the situation in Chuuk was specifically noted by the College and the Director was asked whether the Commission would recommend fixing or closing the campus. The Director noted that such a recommendation must be made by the institution. The Commission leaves action decisions to an institution.
The question was redirected to the Director as to whether Chuuk campus specifically could cause the College to receive a sanction of non-compliance. The Director repeated that the Commission only makes recommendations. The Commission cannot and would not force an institution to take a particular action.
The team then asked if the Chuuk issue had to be settled by March. The Director indicated that, given the tight timeline, the College should be transparent in its reporting on the situation, have a plan that resolves the issue, and be able to show, by the time of the team visit in March, action and movement on that plan. There was the implication that the magnitude of the necessary amount of action and movement might be inferred from the extent and depth of the problems at the campus in question.
The question was posed that if the campus was still found to be non-compliant at the time of the March visit and continued to be non-compliant, could the College eventually be effectively forced to close the campus to return to compliance? The Director noted that while this could happen, it would only occur as the result of a process.
The Director noted that there are degrees of non-compliance as well as a process. If the non-compliance was of a greater degree, then more drastic measures might have to be taken. Physically unsafe facilities ought not be used. If the facilities are physically safe, but constitute an environment that is not conducive to learning, that might be a different degree of non-compliance. In the former case students safety and health are in danger. In the later their ability to learn is in danger.
The Director stressed that there would be a process with steps in the process. Non-compliance that was not addressed within given time span could conceivably lead to probation which at a later time could lead to suspension of accreditation. That would be, however, the end of a long and unsuccessful process. The ACCJC wants Colleges to grow and succeed, and the role of the ACCJC is to help Colleges in their growth. The ACCJC is a working partner of an institution, and the institution has to make the decisions.
In the context of the end of a process, the Director noted that if the process to rectify problems at a particular campus had failed, then a College could have to close that campus.
At this point the President asked the Director if he could quote her. She responded, "Yes."
The ALO, seated next to the Director, turned to the director and asked if accreditation could be used like that. The Director responded in a side conversation with the ALO that the onus was on the institution. The institution should identify the problem, come up with a solution, and implement the solution.
Later, in subsequent conversations elsewhere, the ALO would learn that while the Commission does not want nor approve of colleges using accreditation as a brickbat, the reality is that many colleges have used accreditation requirements to justify tough decisions. The Commission does not necessarily approve, yet realizes that their requirements can provide the cover that college leadership might need. The Commission would prefer that a College act on the basis of its own internal reasonings, yet the reality is that it is often easier to explain an action based on non-compliance with accreditation than to convince the broader community that the action is due to more complex factors such as insufficient student learning being achieved.
Questions would later be asked and discussed as to characterization of the conversation at the Hyatt. The issue is complex. Any conversation has as many versions as participants. The other complexity is where one perceives the process to be for the Chuuk campus. Is this the start of the process? That cannot be the case as the issues surrounding the Chuuk campus were extant when the present ALO was first hired as a faculty member in 1992. Whether the process is now in an end stage may be a matter of one's point of view.
The 1998 ACCJC Evaluation Report noted:
The Chuuk State Campus could be characterized as having almost non-existent library resources. Their library consists of one little room and the collection appears to be out dated. The library adjoins the bookstore which is a tiny room where they sell very few items other than textbooks. There are two computers with Internet access in the library for student use if the student demonstrates the need for class research. Even with the two computers, the learning resources center is completely inadequate. (1998 Evaluation Report, page 20)
Now the campus apparently has no library – hardly the improvement the ACCJC expected. The visiting team might conclude that six years have not only not brought progress, but have seen some areas such as learning resources get worse.
Bear in mind that Information and Learning Resources is not only a part of the standards, but it is a base requirement for eligibility:
16. Information and Learning Resources. The institution provides, through ownership or contractual agreement, specific long-term access to sufficient information and learning resources and services to support its mission and instructional programs in whatever format and wherever they are offered. (Accreditation Reference Handbook, 15 July 2003, pages 5-6.)
The separation of Chuuk by ocean from Pohnpei requires Chuuk campus to have their own information and learning resources. These Eligibility Requirements are minimum requirements for accreditation. The lack of a learning resource center could conceivably lead the ACCJC to deem Chuuk unaccreditable and hence the whole system would indeed go onto immediate probation. This is hypothetical, but the thrust is that one cannot take the position that the process is only beginning in Chuuk. The Chuuk campus was an issue prior to 1997, was an issue in the 1997 self study and the 1998 response, and thus is an ongoing issue. The 1998 response also comments on the lack of sufficient physical facilities and the condition of those facilities for both faculty and students.
The Chuuk State Campus has rented facilities at three different locations within easy walking distance of each other. There appears to have been very little maintenance of the buildings – some windows are boarded up and there appears to be little or no custodial care. Although the classrooms are swept, they are in dire need of renovation or building from the ground up might be an easier job. It should also be noted that the Chuuk State Campus has acquired land for new campus. There may be, however, a problem with access to the land. Assuming that problem can be resolved, they are looking forward to implementing the master plan for a new campus. There is no cafeteria, student center, and virtually no library resources. (1998 Evaluation Report, page 25).
If the lack of compliance were to rise to the level of the Chuuk campus being put on probation, then indeed the whole College would go on probation. Since it is the March visit that could bring about such a result, there is a strong argument to be made that the College has until March to resolve the issues in Chuuk. From this perspective, the College might be at the end of a long process and a move to close the campus could be defended.
The meeting at the Hyatt was certainly the most important part of the trip. The meeting was a critical opportunity for the Executive Director to meet some of those working on the self study. As in business, trust at a personal level is crucial to a productive relationship. The meeting gave the self study team a chance to meet face-to-face with the Director, and for the Director to look each of the team members in the eye. Whatever trust was built in that meeting will be critical to a successful future relationship with the Director and the Commission. In the opinion of this author, the meeting at the Hyatt, and really only that meeting, justified the expense of the trip. The future of the College depends in large part on a good working relationship with the Commission, and underneath all relationships are person to person interactions.
For whatever duration of time the College deems the present Accreditation Liaison Officer fit and appropriate for the position, the present ALO is willing to serve.
The present short-term plans include producing final draft of the self study.
Near term plans include work in the spring term to set up the ACCJC/ACSCU team visit room for the March visit. The room will have all of the evidence cited in the self study. The room will also have to provide full Internet connectivity for each and every team member, especially in light of the ALO's goal to have the self study on line with "one-click" direct access to on line evidences. The room will also have to have amenities such as a microwave, small refrigerator for water and juice, and a coffee maker. The College is uniquely Micronesia, and that includes treating guests like family. Pohnpei was once known as the "Friendly Island" (Comments made at the Tourism subsector session of the National Economic summit circa 1995).
Long term plans include being a part of the continuous dialogue on institutional effectiveness. The ALO hopes to bring into the conversation relevant programs and concepts from other ACCJC institutions and other like institutions elsewhere. There is also the hope that the College of Micronesia might have useful contributions to make to the conversation at other institutions.
Director Beno noted that of 33 institutions reviewed last year in the ACCJC, 30 were asked to produce a response report prior to their midterm focused self study. The Director was forewarning the College that our work is not done in March. The June meeting of the commission will bring response requests for the coming year, requests in regards the focused midterm self study in 2006, and recommendations to be resolved prior to the 2010 reaffirmation.
Continuity and stability in the position that works with the Commission, Accreditation Liaison Officer, would benefit the College at this time.
Dana Lee Ling
Accreditation Liaison Officer