Treasure Valley Community College officials ready to tackle flaws outlined in accreditation audit

The county’s community college received a full renewal on its accreditation but some issues linger. The college will appoint a task force to address the problems and fix them. (The Enterprise/File).

ONTARIO – The cheering is over at Treasure Valley Community College where executives now are tackling a formidable task list to strengthen the school following a probing evaluation by outside educators.

That evaluation left the college with something it rarely enjoyed in the past 20 years – a full renewal of its status as a college with no probation, no warnings. The accreditation ensures students signing up at Treasure Valley get an effective education for their morning, earning credits readily transferred to four-year colleges. But college officials also know they have work ahead. Evaluators cited 16 concerns in their 27-page confidential report that the college made available at the request of the Malheur Enterprise.

The concerns don’t make easy reading for those not steeped in the bureaucracy of higher education.

In plain language, the outside inspectors found disorganized planning, questionable ability to ensure students are learning what they need, and a too shallow bench of administrators to shoulder the work of a modern educational campus.

“We’re not panicked,” said Eddie Alves, vice president for academic affairs.

Dana Young, college president, has charged a four-person task force with fixing what needs fixing and building on Treasure Valley’s strengths. That includes Alves; David Koehler, dean of career and technical education; Renae Weber, a mathematics instructor; and Sandy Porter, an agriculture instructor who was the Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Educator of the Year.

Alves said the college wants to do better recruiting students to come in the first place and then boost the number of students who graduate.

He said the college wants to arrest enrollment declines dating to 2010 and perhaps gain.

He said the college wants to ensure that students leaving Treasure Valley can get a job or go on to a four-year university.

Alves likened the evaluation to an audit. He said the college overall got good marks but had flaws pointed out.

The evaluators noted the struggle the college has had in recent years.

“The institution clearly faces challenges in sustaining its current operations,” the accreditation report said. It noted increasing costs, the “socioeconomic conditions” of the area, the college’s remoteness and “a fast-growing competitor across the Idaho border.”

But they saw hope as well.

“The current evaluators are confident that the college’s storehouse of human insight, passion and commitment will prove more than equal to those challenges,” the report said.

Evaluators found that the college properly focuses its mission on serving students but that by its own admission it doesn’t fully “measure student learning or achievement.”

Koehler, the student dean, said the college had “anecdotal” information that students were succeeding, measured in part by reports back from employers.

He said the college is ramping up its ability to document how well students are doing to then fine tune classes or change programs.

Earlier efforts to measure basic success “were abandoned for a variety of reasons” in part because the process “led to the demoralizing conclusion that TVCC was failing.”

The report in several instances faulted the college for inadequate planning, which helps guide curriculum choices, budgeting, and staffing.

Evaluators said that overall planning wasn’t “consistently purposeful, systematic, integrated.”

The report said planning was “plentiful” but “insufficiently aligned” so there was “no roadmap for the future that everyone can follow.”

“We have struggled with communications internally,” Koehler said.

College officials told evaluators that they didn’t have a proven way to assess “the effectiveness of college programs and services,” leading to a “loss of confidence” in the data they do have, according to the report.

In recent years, the college has worked harder to recruit students, but evaluators thought college officials could do better.

“Despite the college’s declines in enrollment over the last few years, the evaluators saw little planning and coordination among student services units to support recruitment,” the report said.

“We operate in our silos,” Koehler said, but a new committee is bringing together the college employees who have some role in recruiting.

The report noted that college administrators are stretched, taking on two or more jobs, leading evaluators to be concerned that Treasure Valley can’t retain or hire enough administrators.

“You burn people out,” Alves said.

Alves noted that the college has two key vacancies at the moment – one vice president and an institutional researcher to process college data needed for planning.

He said he was the 17th person to hold his position at the college over the past 25 years, underscoring the challenge to build long-term management strength.

Evaluators were impressed by those the college does employ in its executive ranks.

The college “has an effective system of leadership, staffed by qualified administrators,” the report said.

“Its current president brings a particularly strong background to the role of chief executive officer, with eight years as TVCC’s leader, an earned doctorate in higher education, and over 30 years of higher education experience.”