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What does accreditation mean for students, faculty?

A team of 14 individuals selected by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) will evaluate Palomar College’s accreditation status during the week of March 2.

An evaluation of a college’s accreditation status is conducted once every six years and determines the credibility of the college as an academic institution. The status of accreditation ensures the transfer of grades and credits to other colleges and universities and the ability for students to receive federal financial aid.

“It’s extremely important for students to know about accreditation. There have been cases where community colleges have lost their accreditation status,” Associated Student Government (ASG) President Mario Gaspar said.

The site review team consist of administrators, faculty, and staff selected from a pool of the 112 community colleges across the state. Leading the team is Tod Burnett, president of Saddleback College, followed by members of colleges as far north as College of the Redwoods and as far south as Riverside City College.

The site review team will be visiting Palomar from March 2 to March 5 and will be working out of offices in the Natural Science building, according to Berta Cuaron, vice president of Instruction and Accreditation Liaison Officer.

During their stay, the group will be attending meetings, interviewing administrators, faculty and staff and visiting Palomar’s two off-campus, educational centers in Escondido and Camp Pendleton.

Cuaron has asked the college department staff to look at their department websites to ensure that they’re up to date and for faculty to work on their student learning outcomes and assessments so that they are current for the site review.

Members of ASG have been proactive in reaching out to students and informing the student body of the upcoming accreditation review, Gaspar said. Updating the ASG website is on the top of their list in preparing for the site visit as well as holding a workshop on accreditation during a retreat on Feb 20.

“It’s something that we have to do and it’s important. We have to try the best that we can to reaffirm our accreditation,” Gaspar said.

Palomar has released five items in their actionable improvement plans that the college will be working on in the coming years.

Diversity on Palomar College is among the five items, followed by fiscal responsibility, inter-college communication, engagement in shared-governance and tutoring services for distance education.

Diversity at Palomar is defined as broad as possible and in conjunction with how the federal government has defined it, Cuaron said. This encompasses not just ethnicity, but social economics, gender preference, gender (male, female, and other) as well as cultural differences.

Palomar will be addressing diversity through the hiring of new full-time faculty from positions becoming available through Palomar’s Golden Handshake, a monetary incentive program for current staff to retire this summer. The Faculty Senate is looking at what the college staff is doing that may or may not be encouraging a diverse pool of applicants, Cuaron said.

Diversity will also be discussed in the hiring process of Palomar’s new president during the Faculty Senate’s workshop on Feb. 24, where they will be meeting with a selection committee and discussing their interests in their ideal candidates.

The college has put in place a number of mechanisms to ensure that they are fiscally responsible as well as asking people to be conservative with their expenses, Cuaron said. Palomar will be minimizing expenses while still providing services to all the classrooms and support areas on campus.

The Faculty Senate will be attempting to improve communication through the college by posting briefs or highlights of their meetings on their shared governance web page. This will make it easier for faculty, staff and employees to see the important events that occurred during the meeting instead of having to pour through the meetings minutes, Cuaron said. Improved campus communication will also improve engagement in shared governance through the timely presentations of agenda’s and minutes.

Tutoring services for distance education is Palomar’s fifth actionable improvement plan. Palomar staffers will attempt to make the lives of students enrolled in both distance education courses and hybrid courses by looking into the prospect of online tutoring services. It’s a service that the college will be exploring, Cuaron said.

The college community will have two opportunities to address the accreditation group during two forums: The first will be held at 3 p.m. March 3 and the second at 11 a.m. on March 4, both in the Governing Board Room on the San Marcos campus.

On March 5, the review team will conclude their site visit with an exit report of their findings. This report will be sent to the accrediting commission where the team will praise the college on what they have done well and recommend areas for improvements.

The commission will then follow-up with Palomar by sending out an action letter to the college either reaffirming their accreditation or placing them on warning to get into compliance with recommendations. If the college cannot show compliance to set regulations then they will face probation or termination of their accreditation.

Information on the members of the visiting team and their agenda during their visit as well as Palomar’s self-evaluation report and accreditation process can be found at http://www.palomar.edu/accreditation/

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