LIBERAL, Kan. — Seward County Community College received high marks after a recent visit from the Higher Learning Commission, which provides accreditation for institutions of higher education. The HLC visit by five peer reviewers included sessions with all areas of campus and groups from students to the board of trustees. These areas of focus followed up on the 123-page portfolio report (plus several hundred pages of supporting documents) submitted in 2018.
In the exit interview, lead site evaluator Dr. Chris Gray told SCCC President Dr. Ken Trzaska that one measure of institutional health is if it reflects a place they, as reviewers, would like to work. Gray was impressed with the culture and expressed it would be a great place to work.
“That’s incredibly high praise from HLC,” Trzaska told the college employees at a celebratory pizza party on Tuesday.
“Like any college, improvement opportunities were also pointed out and the college is already planning to address those vulnerabilities,” Trzaska said, adding, “We got a great review, and the feedback points to reaccreditation for eight years, which is the upper threshold. They heard from a lot of different groups and were so impressed with our team focus, our ability to collaborate, and employees who feel their voices are heard.”
Additionally, Trzaska said, the reviewers noted the college’s fiscal robustness.
“We are on extremely solid financial ground — the numbers can’t lie,” he said. “Looking forward, the reviewers complimented us on our course delivery options, especially Blendflex, and our concurrent student services. Very few of our peers in the nation’s community colleges are doing the things we are.”
HLC prohibits college presidents from attending the review forums, in order to elicit candid feedback from employees. However, Trzaska said, “the reviewers told me later that they were especially impressed by the students they met, how polite they were, and how happy they seemed.”
Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Joe McCann, who began work at SCCC in August, credited his predecessor, Dr. Todd Carter, for the college’s strong performance with HLC.
“These accreditation processes take nearly two years to complete, and they entail a tremendous amount of work,” said McCann. “I can’t take credit for the great work the team did to prepare the portfolio and follow up on the HLC recommendations.” A steering committee made up of Trzaska, McCann, Travis Combs, Bonnie Merrihew, Alaina Rice, Magda Silva, Roger Scheib, Teresa Wehmeier, Luke Dowell, and Norma Jean Dodge, with additional support from Dr. Suzanne Campbell, kept things on course following portfolio submission.
HLC evaluates five criteria: the college mission, and employee awareness of and practice of it; integrity in operations; teaching and learning quality, resources, and support; evaluation of teaching and learning; and resources, planning and institutional effectiveness.
Accreditation can be viewed as an overall grade or “certificate of authenticity” for colleges, ensuring that students receive a transferable, high-quality education. As a form of accountability, it also confirms to stakeholders and taxpayers in the community that the college is operating as it should.
“Our team did a thorough and impressive job, and each one has my gratitude,” Trzaska said. “We’re very, very pleased, and looking forward to another 50 years of excellence.”