Community college achieves independence

Oregon Coast Community College received word this week that it is now an independently accredited institution. On Tuesday, Feb. 4, the college was informed of the decision by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. (News-Times file photo)

LINCOLN COUNTY — Oregon Coast Community College (OCCC) is now an independently accredited institution.

On Tuesday, Feb. 4, the college was informed of the decision by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. OCCC hosted a celebration sharing the news Thursday evening, Feb. 6.

The 33-year-old college serves Lincoln County through its locations in Newport, Waldport and Lincoln City. OCCC students pursue health care, aquarium science, teaching, early childhood education, associates and transfer degrees at Oregon coast, along with adult basic education and numerous other certificate and degree programs.

“Up until this year,” said OCCC President Dr. Birgitte Ryslinge, “every diploma earned by the students at Oregon Coast over the past three decades bore the name of an ‘accrediting college,’ through which Oregon Coast delivered instruction.” Since 2014, OCCC graduates earned diplomas and credits from Portland Community College.

“Other small community colleges in Oregon followed the same path over their early decades,” Ryslinge said. “Oregon Coast was the last community college in Oregon to lack its own independent accreditation.”

In May 2004, Lincoln County voters approved $24 million in bonds to build the college’s north, central and south county facilities. Construction on those buildings was completed in 2009. In 2014, Ryslinge was named president of OCCC and was charged by the OCCC Board of Education with the task of leading the college to independent accreditation.

The process Ryslinge led involved many students, as well as every member of the staff and faculty at OCCC over the past six years. Virtually every college system and process was examined and improved. The work was documented through the submission of multiple reports and self-evaluations totaling thousands of pages of written reports. During that time, the college also hosted two separate NWCCU teams comprised of community college presidents and deans representing institutions from throughout the Northwest. A complete history of the college’s pursuit of independence can be found at

What it means

As an independently accredited institution, OCCC will manage processing and distribution of financial aid for its students, including work study. College credits will transfer as earned at OCCC, and the college will maintain its students’ transcripts, streamlining the process students need to go through to request transcripts and other records when transferring to other colleges and universities. The college will be able to set its own qualifications for faculty hiring (as opposed to following standards established at Portland Community College). Further, OCCC faculty will have control over selection of textbooks and materials most appropriate for their coursework, while also retaining responsibility for maintaining the appropriate levels of academic rigor and course content.

The college will also be able to be more responsive to local needs in the years to come. When accredited through a larger college, OCCC was generally only able to offer classes and programs offered by that college. Now that OCCC is an independent institution, it will be have greater freedom to work with partners and stakeholders in Lincoln County to evaluate, create and adjust sustainable programs to meet the needs of local students and the broader Lincoln County economy.

The change also brings changes to web surfers — and the email addresses of students, faculty and staff. The college website, currently, will be transitioning soon to, and that change will soon be reflected in college email accounts, too. Both addresses will work for an extended period of transition to ensure no messages are lost. Watch for details on the website and on the OCCC Instagram and Facebook pages, @occcsharks.

The OCCC diploma

“And, there’s one more change that our students will see,” said Dan Lara, OCCC’s chief academic officer. “The college anticipates that all students graduating in 2021 and thereafter will receive Oregon Coast Community College diplomas.”

Lara explained it would be unfair to transition students receiving financial aid between institutions mid-year, so students graduating in June 2020 will still earn PCC diplomas. Some of the OCCC students without financial aid packages, however, may have the option to receive the college’s first-ever official diplomas in 2020.

“The name on a diploma may seem just symbolic,” Lara said, “but to the OCCC community, it represents so much more. Not only does it reflect the unprecedented amount of hard work put in to get us here — work performed by our management team, our students, our staff, and our amazing faculty — but it also calls out the commitment Lincoln County residents have repeatedly and consistently shown to their community college. The donors who have supported the college and its students, through gifts to the OCCC Foundation, are paramount examples of this support.  On behalf of those donors and our entire OCCC family, we’re extremely proud and excited, and we want our students and our community to share that pride and excitement. The ‘Oregon Coast Diploma’ is one of many ways they’ll be able to do just that.”

“For me, personally and professionally, this is the most meaningful accomplishment of my career,” Ryslinge said. “I am deeply touched to be part of the history of this incredible college, and to have helped secure its place in Lincoln County, in Oregon, and nationally.”

— Oregon Coast Community College


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