Garden City Community College’s accrediting institution, the Higher Learning Commission, published a letter Thursday morning detailing its decision to lift a probation on the college’s accreditation status.

In 2017, following a campus visit the previous year, the HLC changed the college’s accreditation status to “Accredited — Probation,” meaning the college was still accredited but did not meet all of the HLC’s standards. For the next two years, the college went through a process to address the sanction, changing campus structures, developing long-term missions and goals through a strategic plan and submitting relevant documents to the HLC.

The HLC originally determined that GCCC failed to meet criteria regarding the college’s degree programs, the quality of its education programs, student and program assessments, and attention to program retention and completion rates, and was lacking in its engagement with systemic and integrated planning, as well as systematic efforts to improve the college’s performance.

Last year, a site team from the HLC once again visited GCCC, this time leaving behind positive feedback. On June 27, the HLC Board of Trustees ruled to lift the probation on GCCC’s accreditation status. The college and public were notified of the decision Wednesday.

On Thursday morning, the HLC posted an action letter online stating that GCCC is “no longer out of compliance” with the accreditation criteria, though it meets the category regarding administrative structures and effective leadership “with concerns.”

The college “has made significant progress in attending to the leadership challenges of the past,” the letter stated, but could still benefit from leadership training, specifically for its “relatively inexperienced” board of trustees. Three of the college’s six current trustees have served on the board for at least eight years.

The college’s progress lies in a refreshed administration filled with “qualified and capable individuals,” the letter said, referring to GCCC’s chief financial officer, vice president of instruction and chief academic officer, vice president of student services, athletic director and vice president of institutional effectiveness and accountability. All but the latter were hired within the past year by President Ryan Ruda, himself appointed in February.

The letter referenced the college’s leadership struggles last year, when employees called for the termination of former President Herbert Swender, citing a toxic work environment and disregard for HLC policies.

The letter stated that a report by independent investigator Greg Goheen, a lawyer from Kansas City, “determined that the critical leadership issues had been effectively resolved with the termination of the prior President.” Swender was not terminated, but left the college in August 2018 through a mutual separation agreement.

The letter noted that the GCCC Board of Trustees will begin reviewing its policy governance immediately and will require additional training regarding “roles and responsibilities, strategic planning, fiduciary requirements, effective oversight, and self-evaluation and ongoing improvement processes.”

Because of the HLC’s “concerns,” the college is required to submit a report regarding administrative and trustee leadership with its next scheduled accreditation review in 2022-23.

Ruda said the report is an extension of the work the college has already done — it has revamped its procedures regarding such areas as program reviews and retention and now it will better address leadership. He said staff intended to begin offering orientations for new trustees and annual leadership training for board members and administrators.

For the other categories, the letter detailed more positive findings. Based on submitted documentation and the site team’s findings, the board noted that GCCC’s degree programs were now articulating learning goals, using guidelines to develop new and modifying current curricula, and being directed by advisory boards for its technical programs. Programs have been reviewed or will be reviewed in the next two to three years.

Staff members and software are now dedicated to improving student retention, and such student services as the writing center and tutoring options are now more readily available, the letter stated.

The college’s assessments are now being posted online and used in tandem with budgetary decisions, the letter noted. One such review identified a need for professional development programs for faculty regarding critical thinking.

“Previously, professional development funding for improving assessment was lacking, but it is now an expectation,” the board said in the letter.

The strategic plan was developed by meeting with community leaders and campus stakeholders, the letter says. The college demonstrated budget allocations that focus on students, including support services and maintaining the campus. Upgrading the IT infrastructure at the school contributed to enrollment growth, the letter said.

The college is also meeting requirements regarding systemic improvements by better monitoring data regarding its effectiveness, the letter states. The Office of Institutional Effectiveness helps secure data and reports to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and Kansas Board of Regents. It participates in the National Community College Benchmarking Project and works with the Community College Survey of Student Engagement and Survey of Entering Student Engagement on a bi-annual basis. Financial reports are regularly provided to the GCCC Board of Trustees and KBOR, it noted.


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