EXCLUSIVE: Honolulu Community College put on warning by accreditation team

EXCLUSIVE: Honolulu Community College put on warning by accreditation team
Published: Sep. 23, 2013 at 8:54 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 24, 2013 at 6:48 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Community College has been placed on warning accreditation status by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, the only of the University of Hawaii's ten campuses to get such a warning.

The accrediting panel gave the 4,400-student campus the warning after an evaluation visit to the Kalihi school last fall.

"The first things a lot of people said, 'Oh my God, is my diploma going to be worth the paper it's written on?' That was a big concern," said Kaleo Gagne, HCC's student body president.

Gagne praised HCC Chancellor Erika Lacro for holding town meetings with students to explain what the warning meant.

"We remain accredited while we are on warning, and so their financial aid doesn't change," Lacro told Hawaii News Now. "Nothing for the students changes.  We just internally need to refocus ourselves on the issues our team found, which is a good thing because our institution will be a better place after that."

More than 100 HCC faculty members teach courses online and that's where the accreditation panel leveled its most serious criticism.

"The college should compare the instructional quality of face-to-face and distance education courses and develop a strategic plan for distance education," the accrediting panel wrote.

HCC History Professor Patrick Patterson teaches about 30 students online this semester.

He said the college is documenting how students in online courses are getting the same services, including tutoring and financial aid, as students in more traditional face-to-face classes.

"We are now in the process of building up this assessment system so we can prove that our courses are as good as we say they are," Patterson said.

The college has now put together a distance education strategic plan as well as a survey of all the services online students receive, including financial aid, tutoring, counseling.

"We've had a process of determining the quality of courses before they become distance education courses, so we make sure that the quality is good.  That's always been in place, and I think we just did kind of a poor job in showing them that," said Patterson.

Lacro said, "We weren't able to show them (the accrediting panel) evidence of yes we're looking at this at a larger scale, and I think that's probably what triggered it."

The accreditation panel also said HCC needed to "… ensure general education courses that are consistent with levels of quality and rigor appropriate to higher education…" Lacro said visiting accreditation panels had similar criticisms of all UH community colleges.

Professor Jess Aki oversees the HCC cosmetology program with 60 students.  She said the quality of education has improved as a result of assessments all faculty did because of the accreditation warning.

"I could look at my program, really look it and see what was working and what was not working, what needs to be improved.  Try to look at it from a student's standpoint," Aki said. "Now I think there's more consistency.  We can prove we're doing what we're doing.  And the chancellor has been very supportive of the faculty in getting this project going."

Honolulu Community College officials are confident they will be removed from the accreditation warning list once they turn in a detailed follow up report in the middle of next month and an accreditation team visits to verify progress after that.

"I think we've followed to the T the things they were asking us to do, so I feel that we're in pretty good shape when they come in an evaluate us," Lacro said. "I don't see it as a real bad thing because it gives you the motivation and the direction to move forward to make things better, because it's all about making it better for the students' learning."

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