BATAVIA -- Two years of intensive work on the part of Genesee Community College faculty and staff members resulted in a "very positive" exit report from the eight-member Middle States Commission on Higher Education accreditation team that visited Genesee between April 2 and April 5, President James M. Sunser told the Board of Trustees Monday evening.
In addition to finding a "high level of performance" at Genesee, Executive Vice President for Planning and Institutional Effectiveness William T. Emm reported that the Team issued formal praise for 18 significant accomplishments, including GCC's robust assessment process, establishment of the innovative success coaching program, engagement and commitment of the Board of Trustees, the GCC Foundation's support of construction of two new Batavia campus buildings, and excellent assistance to faculty in planning online courses. Mr. Emm served as co-chair of Genesee's Accreditation Self-Study Steering Committee, along with Professor of Psychology and Director of Social Sciences Timothy P. Tomczak.
Accreditation is an independent affirmation of a college's academic quality, as well as the strength of its administrative, financial and student services. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education is one of six regional accrediting bodies that collectively oversee accreditation of the nation's 4,700+ higher education institutions. The Middle States Commission has accrediting jurisdiction over higher education institutions in the mid-Atlantic region and U.S. territories in the Caribbean. In recent years, the Middle States Commission and other accrediting bodies have emphasized the critical importance of continuous improvement in all areas of a college's academic programs and support services. Each of the Middle States Commission's standards require rigorous planning, evaluation and improvement activities designed to ensure high standards of quality.
Employers and government agencies recognize the importance of accreditation in higher education. Generally, only accredited colleges and universities can receive government grants and contracts, prepare students for professional licensure and publicly assert that their academic programs are independently scrutinized. Students wishing to receive financial aid must be enrolled in accredited colleges and universities. Accreditation provides assurance to employers that the educational credentials of employees and job candidates are legitimate and meet high standards.
Last week's Middle States accreditation team visit concluded a demanding two-year process that saw more than 70 faculty and staff members evaluate all areas of college life against accreditation standards. Under the leadership of Vice President Emm and Professor Tomczak, faculty and staff members gathered data and evidence in support of accreditation requirements, conducted interviews with college stakeholders and compiled an exhaustive self-study report that, with appendices, spanned more than 900 pages. Each of the eight Middle States accreditation team members reviewed the report prior to their arrival, and then verified the report's findings by examining data and interviewing members of the college community.
Members of Middle States Commission teams are independent, highly experienced and highly respected educational leaders that have no connection to Genesee Community College or the SUNY system. In addition to the team's chair, Dr. Peter L. Mora, the team included longtime professors of psychology and chemistry, an executive dean for student affairs, an academic dean, two provosts/vice presidents and a chief financial officer. All but one member of the team came from colleges located outside of New York State.
President Sunser told trustees that Genesee's self-study and team visit was especially challenging in light of Genesee's decision to "pilot" the Middle States Commission's updated accreditation standards, which will be rolled out to all of the approximately 525 colleges and universities under its jurisdiction beginning next year. Genesee was one of only two community colleges – and one of only 15 colleges and universities in total – to participate in this "Collaborative Implementation Project" in which the new standards were applied.
President Sunser, who has served as a member of more than 20 Middle States accreditation teams over the years, and who currently serves as a Middle States commissioner (board member) said he was both grateful for the efforts of faculty and staff members who completed Genesee's self-study and "deeply impressed" by their work. Several trustees, who had seen a draft of the self-study submitted to the Middle States Commission, were also impressed with the quality and the format of the web-based self-study document, which linked observations and conclusions to online data and other supporting documents.
"Dr. Mora told me that he and the other members of the Team were very impressed with the College," Dr. Sunser said. "We are very proud, and we look forward to the Middle States Commission's reaccreditation decision."
In addition to college accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, each of Genesee's health care programs is also accredited by national professional bodies.
In other business this evening, the Board of Trustees:
- Accepted a gift of sewing patterns from GCC Professor of Physics Michael A. Crittenden and his wife Karen for use in the College's Fashion program.
- Approved a change order for the College's construction program, authorizing $46,752 for rock removal.
- Heard Executive Vice President Emm report that construction of the new Student Success Center and Richard C. Call Arena continues to be on time and on budget. Recently completed work in the Student Success Center includes the interior stairs, mechanical systems, elevator and windows. About 90% of the drywall is in, and painting and carpet installation has begun in some areas. In the Richard C. Call Arena, recently completed work includes all roofing and skylights, the elevator and most interior drywall. Work on the mechanical systems has begun. Mr. Emm said that furniture in the Student Success Center will be delivered in early June and staff members will begin moving to the new building in mid-June in groups of five to eight each day.
- Heard Trustee Donna M. Ferry report that she is serving on an ad-hoc committee reviewing GCC space use policy and procedures, and preparing guidelines and procedures for use of the new Richard C. Call Arena. Ms. Ferry also said that she and the committee realize that many regional and statewide groups will be interested in using the Arena and other GCC space, and want to be sure that procedures are displayed on the College's web site and easy to understand. The Committee expects to complete its work by the end of May, according to Ms. Ferry.
- Heard President James M. Sunser report that the 2017-2018 New York State budget appears to result in decreased funding for most of the state's community colleges, including Genesee. SUNY and community college leaders asked the State Legislature to ensure that funding for the coming year would not be any lower than funding for the current year. Although the final budget includes a slight increase in the "base" state aid rate, the funding formula will produce a net reduction of 3% in community college support across the state.
- Heard President Sunser report that the state budget includes funding for the state's new "Excelsior" scholarship program, which will provide the last dollars of tuition for families with adjusted gross income of $100,000 beginning this fall. The eligibility threshold rises to $110,000 in 2018 and $125,000 in 2019. Dr. Sunser reminded trustees that although the Excelsior program has been labeled "free tuition," it is limited to students pursuing study on a full-time (30 credit hours annually) basis, and the Excelsior grant carries post-graduation state residency requirements for students. Dr. Sunser said that the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation will administer the program and will hopefully issue administrative guidelines in the near future. Implementation of the Excelsior program will present some challenges for the College, such as dual tuition rates and administration of new state regulations anticipated with the launch of the program. "We will, of course, meet the challenges," Dr. Sunser said. "Our staff will stay right on top of the program and be ready to provide information and service to students and families."
- Heard Amy L. Churchfield, associate dean of the Livingston County Campus Centers, describe Lima Campus Center programs and the student body. Dean Churchfield noted that students range in age from 14 to 83, and that the Lima Center makes a special effort to provide services to students who are receiving homeschool education. Dean Churchfield and Campus Center Associate Laurie Rogers discussed the importance of highly personal student advising, and noted that their advising is often a key to academic success. Area residents Candice Murphy, Ellen Couture and John Fugate shared their experiences as Lima Campus Center students with trustees, and praised the Center's staff. Lima Town Councilman Daniel Marcellus told trustees that area residents deeply appreciate the Lima Campus Center. Mr. Marcellus noted that the Center now hosts many community activities, ranging from blood drives to meetings of civic organizations.