CARTERVILLE — In April, the Higher Learning Commission reviewed John A. Logan College’s accreditation as part of its standard 10-year review. Then, in July, the college got word it met all the criteria needed for affirmation of accreditation.
In other words, it passed the review with flying colors.
HLC conducts comprehensive evaluations of member institutions to confirm that the institution continues to meet the Criteria for Accreditation, is pursuing institutional improvement and complies with requirements sets by the U.S. Department of Education. Evaluations are conducted by teams of peer reviewers.
JALC President Ron House said there were only two conditions placed on the report, and one, unsurprisingly, was related to finances.
“They called us and told us before they ever got here for the review that we were going to get that condition because everyone in Illinois was going to get that condition,” House said.
A report from the commission stated “JALC is sharing in the financial challenges of all Illinois public institutions resulting from the budgetary impasse between the state legislature and the governor,” adding that “JALC had taken many intermediate steps to address the annual shortfalls in hopes that the budget impasse would resolve, including a reduction in force that included faculty.”
According to Melanie Pecord, acting vice president for instructional services at JALC, the other condition was regarding the college’s approach to institutional assessment, but that the college was well underway to meeting HLC goals.
“We had actually begun doing what they said we needed to do a little before the evaluation, but were not yet reporting or collecting the data. But the changes were well underway,” Pecord said.
House said it is important to understand what accreditation is in order to understand the magnitude of what this most recent review meant for the college.
“Accreditation makes it possible for students to receive various types of student assistance. Without accreditation, programs like Pell grants, TRiO, and Veterans programs would be unavailable to our students,” House said.
Additionally, House said, accreditation makes it possible for students to transfer to other higher education institutions to complete their programs and degrees, and is indicative of the quality of the educational programs and training, and the educational environment in which they are provided.
“It is a reflection of how we do business here and how the college operates, and reflects how we all individually perform in our respective positions,” he said.
Pecord said the process of getting to the review meant that the college was under some pressure for the final two years leading up to the visit by the HLC.
“We had two staff turnovers in leadership positions in that final push before their visit," she said. "Everyone on the campus dug deep and put in the time and the effort with no questions asked, because we had to finish and make sure that reaffirmation was coming. That was a phenomenal feat for this college because this was all happening in the midst a of a budget crisis when we had reduction in force, we had reduction in staff."
Stephanie Chaney-Hartford, dean of academic affairs, said what was accomplished was even more impressive to her because the college was operating with a reduced number of faculty and staff.
“People had to wear many hats. Not only were faculty are teaching more hours to make sure their programs are covered and working longer hours, but they added this process on top of that,” Chaney-Hartford said.
House said their good standing allows the college to look forward to creating new programs.
“We know that as the industries in the community change, we need to change," House said. "Right now we have a change to identify within our community what those needs are so we can continue to offer high quality programs which are beneficial to our graduates and hopefully keep them in the area."
House said that current trends in community college education involve reinventing and reanimating technical or vocational programs.
“When community colleges came into being they had a great focus on vocational instruction, and over the years there was more emphasis placed on transfer programs. Recently, the pendulum has swung back the other way and now programs that prepare people for careers in technical areas,” House said.
And those technical degrees bring with them a good wage, House said.
“These are not degrees that lead to minimum wage jobs. People are making $22 per hour when they graduate from some of our programs. That is a good wage, a wage on which you can raise a family. They are making more than the teachers that teach them,” House said.
Chaney-Hartford said the college is also dedicated to creating pathways to education for the community.
“We want to make sure that high school students that want to earn credit hours while still in high school can do so. And we want to work with our non-traditional student, who work and have families have the opportunities they need to advance themselves," Chaney-Hartford said.
House said he is proud of the work the faculty, staff and leaders of the college have done to get the college to this point.
“We’ve overcome not just the adversity of no budget, reduced faculty, and shifting personnel in the middle of a huge evaluation, but we’ve done it well. We are proud of the report, and the faculty, the staff, the vice president, the deans and many others. We have had to overcome a lot of adversity and that makes the whole thing a lot sweeter,” House said.
Classes at John A. Logan College begin Aug. 16.