OCCC takes next step towards independence

Kathy Anderson, left, executive assistant to the president, Oregon Coast Community College President Birgitte Ryslinge and Chief Academic Officer Dan Lara, hold electronic and printed copies of the college’s self-evaluation report, submitted on Aug. 29 as part of the college’s ongoing effort to secure independent accreditation. (Courtesy photo)

By the end of August, Oregon Coast Community College’s office printers were smearing as rollers heated up from overuse, and red pens ran dry from so many editing marks, additions and revisions — notations that filled the pages of the draft printouts of OCCC’s Initial Accreditation Self-Evaluation Report.

The pretty and polished 228-page report was completed by the evening of Thursday, Aug. 29, and sent to a long list of recipients via email, DropBox and FedEx. Now, a team of college presidents and administrators from throughout the Pacific Northwest will study the report (and the thousands of pages of evidence and supporting documentation that accompanies it) over the next six weeks as they prepare for a site visit in October. That review and visit will result in a recommendation to the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities which, at its annual meeting in January 2020 in Seattle, will make a determination about whether OCCC is prepared to be an independently accredited institution. If granted independence, OCCC’s independent status will be retroactive to the start of the current fall term.

Since its founding in 1987, OCCC has been accredited through larger institutions, including Chemeketa Community College, Clatsop Community College and Portland Community College — with whom OCCC currently has an Educational Services Agreement. Graduates who walked across the stage last June, for example, earned degrees and certificates emblazoned with the PCC logo, and they earned PCC credits, identical to those they would have earned at PCC’s campuses in the Portland area. Other small community colleges in Oregon have operated within the same model before pursuing their own independent accreditation. In 2014, Tillamook Bay Community College and Columbia Gorge Community College each secured their independence, both having been accredited through PCC prior to the change.

For more than two decades after its formation, Oregon Coast Community College provided classes and services in a variety of rented spaces spread across the county. In Oregon, college buildings are largely funded by local property tax levies. In 2004, Lincoln County voters took the significant step of voting to fund permanent campus spaces. The move to college-owned and operated facilities in 2009 marked the beginning of a new era of stability and growth.

Since the college’s inception in 1987, independent accreditation has been the vision of the OCCC Board of Education. In July 2014, Dr. Birgitte Ryslinge was named president, and charged with leading the college to independent accreditation, which will permit OCCC to focus solely on its own mission and mission fulfillment. On Jan. 8, 2016, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities granted OCCC applicant status as a candidate for accreditation, and in June 2018 granted candidacy. Upon encouragement from its NWCCU staff liaison, the college then requested an accelerated candidacy period. This was granted in October 2018 and consequently the first review since the granting of candidacy in 2018 will be the October 2019 visit for the evaluation for Initial Accreditation.

As an independent institution, OCCC would oversee its own financial aid provision, it would set qualification standards for faculty and it would have ultimate control over programs and services to offer, so as to best meet the needs of its students and the coastal communities it serves.

It can be difficult to make sense of the various steps the college has taken since the summer of 2014 towards independence. The college has a webpage devoted to laying out the process in simple terms, and which includes links to all the various reports the college has filed with the NWCCU over this period — including the most recent self-evaluation report, submitted Aug. 29. Find the page at oregoncoastcc.org – just enter “Accreditation” in the search bar in the footer.

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