09/22/06 — College gets high scores in review

View Archive

College gets high scores in review

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 22, 2006 1:46 PM

Wayne Community College has received yet another nod of approval from one of the regional associations tasked with determining standards for the nation's university systems.

Southern Association of Colleges and Universities (SACS) recently completed its detailed re-accreditation process and has given Wayne Community high marks, WCC president Dr. Ed Wilson said. The process typically takes two years to complete and is done every 10 years. Wayne Community was first accredited in 1970.

"It's an important time for us," Wilson said. "First, our students being able to transfer their coursework and also for students to receive federal financial aid -- we have to be accredited by a regional accrediting agency."

SACS is the recognized regional accrediting body in the 11 southern states and Latin America for institutions that award associate, baccalaureate, master's or doctoral degrees. There are currently 790 institutions accredited by the association's Commission on Colleges. In North Carolina, Wilson said, that translates to 58 community colleges, 16 universities and 38 private institutions.

The process provides an opportunity for the college to review its operations and gauge progress, Wilson said. In addition to data collection, there are 73 principles that are covered -- such as governance, finance, academic programs and support programs.

In addition to programs and policies, the review also considers student learning and weighs outcomes.

It also means a lot of hard work to maintain the status, officials said. Some schools have been put on probation for not meeting the criteria set by SACS.

Since Wayne Community became accredited more than 25 years ago, the college has never lost its accreditation status, Wilson said. Some of that is credited to the college's staff as well as ongoing efforts to maintain that standing.

"It's a testament to what we did during our two-year (accreditation) period, but it was also a testament to what the college does every day," said Dr. Kay Albertson, vice president for academic affairs. "You can't create all of that in two years. It's a sequential process and people have to do good things every day to be successful."

The college has a history of demonstrating positive outcomes, Wilson said.

"We're getting more and more students -- 35 percent of all the graduates last year from the public high schools," he said. "The highest we've had has been 39 percent. I think we're going into the 40s this year.

"They're coming because they know they can come here, save the money, transfer, take their credits with them. With the cost of a four-year education escalating like it is, it's good for us."

Dr. Albertson said the landscape is changing for community colleges. Older adults are returning for an education, while others with degrees are enrolling to enter other fields.

Cindy Archie, division head for allied health and public services, recalled a student who attended N.C. School for Math and Science and then the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, obtaining a degree in biology.

"She got out and didn't want to sit in a lab ... decided she wanted to be a nurse, so she came home and took the nursing program at Wayne Community," she said.

Dr. Albertson said it is also impressive to realize that Wayne Community has to meet the same standards as other institutions, such as UNC-Chapel Hill. Although the latter has additional criteria because of its advanced degrees, the measure still holds a lot of weight.

"Accreditation is important because if you don't have it, you don't get federal funds, transfer courses don't transfer," Wilson said. It also attracts grants such as the Lumina Foundation's "Achieving the Dream," which in recent years has awarded Wayne Community $100,000 a year to improve success rates, particularly among minority students, he said.

The ripple effect is also felt through the workforce and in areas of financial aid, Dr. Albertson added.

"Sometimes the doors do close," she said, noting that the college cannot hire professors who haven't gone to accredited schools.

Being accredited represents credibility, Wilson said, both in the community and among their peers.

It translates to students taking the prerequisite courses and transferring to the four-year institution of their choosing, while ensuring financial aid money is available. Wilson said last year, $6 million in financial aid was awarded to students at the college.

"It's all about integrity," Dr. Albertson said. "We want to be good stewards to those we serve, to the community and to the taxpayers."

As president of the college, Wilson said he was proud to be a part of the team that accomplished the renewed accreditation.

"We were highly complimented by the visiting team and heard a lot of positive things about how well we had done and what a wonderful institution we had," he said. "It was a heck of a team effort to pull that off -- Cindy, Kay, Bill Thompson (director of planning and research) were three key people that pulled this process off.

"It was a very inclusive process all through the campus."