Although we continue to hear rumblings about the accreditation status of Victor Valley College, the High Desert’s largest college, many of us fail to understand exactly what that means.
There are two major impacts of accreditation on the college and students that attend it. Those are financial: state/federal funding and financial aid and academic: the transferability and recognition of credits earned by students at the institution. In other words, without proper accreditation students’ coursework may not be recognized or accepted at other schools or by future employers. Also, students may not qualify for programs such as the Pell Grants program. These two issues are not all that are affected by the accreditation, but they certainly have a huge impact on our students.
What is accreditation exactly? Accreditation is a grading or rating of an institution by a third-party agency. The agency that is responsible for rating Victor Valley College is the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, specifically the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC). The accreditation agency sends out a team to review practices at the college and grade the college on their performance in specific areas using specific criteria. The practice ensures that students at any accredited college or university will receive a quality education that meets specific standards.
What’s going on at Victor Valley College (VVC)? In 2005, the ACCJC sent a team to VVC to conduct a periodic review in order to maintain its accreditation rating. At that time, VVC was found to be below the minimum standards in six specific areas. The team made recommendations to the VVC in order to meet the minimum standards in those six areas.
Since 2005 VVC has had continuous visits from the ACCJC accreditation team each time inspecting the specific issues found during the 2005 review. Each time the team came out to inspect, it reviewed the key areas and issued VVC additional guidance on how to meet the minimum standards. VVC has successfully met the minimum standards for three of the issues. However, three issues are still not addressed successfully by VVC. They are: Recommendation 2 addresses student learning and institutional processes (Basically, the college should be reviewing the programs it offers on a regular basis in order to continually improve and ensure it is providing programs students need.); Recommendation 3 addresses student learning outcomes (Are students actually learning what the college intends to teach them? How are we ensuring that?); and Recommendation 6 addresses the long-term financial health of VVC (The college needs to plan for the future, so it doesn’t run out of money or continue operating with a deficit.).
What does all that mean to the High Desert Community and the students of VVC? If VVC cannot meet the minimum standards during the October 2013 visit by the ACCJC review team, VVC will be subject to losing its accreditation status. At best, that means that students and graduates of VVC will be at risk of not having their credits transfer or recognized to meet employment standards. Current and future students may not be eligible for financial aid through FAFSA, and most likely tuition will go up if it is not subsidized by the state. At worst, the college may close causing job loss for hundreds of High Desert residents and leaving thousands of local students without classes.
As a community, we simply cannot afford to let Victor Valley College lose its accreditation status or struggle with probationary status any longer. We must ensure that Victor Valley College returns to full accreditation without sanctions to protect our future.
What can we do? As voters who voted for the governing body of VVC, the Board of Trustees, we can let that governing body know that they need to do what’s best for the college. They need to hire executive leadership that can lead the college out of the accreditation abyss that it is in. They also need to accept the responsibilities that they were elected to uphold.