EDITORIAL: College accreditation report offers opportunity for action

With the help of outside experts, Treasure Valley Community College has great potential to do even better serving students. That potential, though, requires a focus that hasn’t always been evident at the college. The experts mapped the way forward, and their advice ought to be heeded.

Those who run Treasure Valley were excited about the recent accreditation report. That’s essentially a report card for colleges, and the Chukars got a passing grade. Other recent evaluations haven’t been as positive, so in a broad way this recent report was good news for our local community college.

But the challenges of recent years are clearly wearing on the college. As the economy improved and jobs proved plentiful, enrollment nosed down. At the same time, costs have gone up for just about everything the college buys or for the people it pays.

There has been turnover in executive ranks, which might not seem too important. But it is. You need a strong bench of leaders to tackle these challenges. For Treasure Valley, it’s been like trying to play good basketball with only four players on the floor. The college’s other executives are expected to pick up the slack for that missing fifth player.

Beyond staffing, though, the college clearly needs to do better at planning. The accreditation report contained plenty of notes that planning was scattered and ineffective. That means there is no clear road map to Treasure Valley’s future. The outside experts noted that it’s hard for students, faculty, and the community to follow and to help if they don’t know the goal.

Much of the college’s plans are written in lofty and general terms. They are loaded with the special language of the education world, meaning the average person almost has to find a translator to understand. That shouldn’t be. The college, for example, needs to be more clear about the most basic goal: The number of students enrolled. That single objective would be easy to grasp and easy to measure, and Dana Young, the college president, does have that ambition.

She is aiming for an increase of 2 percent a year in the equivalent of full time students for the next few years. Young noted on Monday that the total number of students at Treasure Valley is 4,366 – up from 4,009 last year.

Much can flow from promoting and building on her goal. The report notes weaknesses, for instance, in how the college determines whether the education it provides delivers results. The college itself told evaluators that it didn’t do well at measuring student learning. When you know how many students you want, the effort to recruit students would be more focused. Evaluators dinged the college for its disjointed recruiting efforts. Those efforts are laudable, but sharp organization to produce results seems needed.

As college administrators, faculty, board members and students work their way through the recommendations, they ought to consider every “concern” listed as an opportunity. The college is and will always be an essential part of Malheur County, to give students an affordable education, to provide a lively campus experience, to shape employees of the future. The evaluation report was costly for the time it took the college to prepare and participate in this grading. That investment shouldn’t go on the shelf, but instead be managed to produce the dividends of a growing enrollment, stable staffing, and a financially strong institution.  – LZ