Q&A with Southwestern Community College President Dr. Chopra
Southwestern Community College has gone through many changes and has dealt with many issues, none bigger than the issue of their accreditation. After the last review in January by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) the college was found out of compliance in ten areas and put on probation.
October 15 is the first official review by WASC of the progress by the college. In anticipation of this review we sat down with Dr. Chopra for a Question and Answer interview to find out where the college is at in the accreditation process as well as some of the other issues swirling around the college.
October 15 is your first meeting with WASC regarding the issue of accreditation?
We have been working on the recommendations since the report came out and making good progress. In fact, one of the issues raised by WASC is already resolved. By October 15, we are required to submit the response to those recommendations. But it’s critical to remember that, as we address these issues, the college is open: students can take classes, transfer credits, get financial aid and more.
What issues are you looking at on the 15th?
There are five recommendations which we must respond to. One has already been submitted and they have already accepted it. So there are four other areas that we have been working on. For example, there are recommended changes in Board policies which will improve the College’s operations. The Board has already approved some new policies or is in the process of approving others to come into compliance with WASC’s recommendations.
It should be noted that these are not new polices which the board developed, these are the policies which have been on the books for many years. It should also be noted the accreditation made the same recommendations in 1996 and 2003. Half of the total recommendations are from 1996 and 2003. Finally we are tending to those recommendations.
What are the policies that need tending to?
One of the policies is the Board’s role in the selection of Vice-Presidents. Before, the Board could interview the candidates. The commission recommendation was that this implies the board is actually micro-managing, so the board changed that policy. We have a new policy where the board will not be involved in the selection of the Vice Presidents and will act on the recommendation of the President to accept or not to accept the recommendation the president makes.
The second was that a Board member was on the budget committee and the commission felt this was an undue influence so we corrected that.
The third issue was Board ethics and policies. The Board did not have procedures outlining these, so now we have developed procedures and we are in the process of getting that approved.
These are the issues we have to respond to by the 15th. Then there are others we have to respond to by March 15, 2011.
How unusual is it that that you are facing the accreditation issue?
I think there are 40 or 45 other colleges in the state who are in the same situation we are. I believe WASC has changed their standards, so it is a learning curve for many of the colleges. The colleges, like us, are taking the recommendations seriously and making the exact attempt to correct those.
Student learning outcomes is one of the areas that have been pointed out – but it’s a very new concept. At the high school and elementary school, student learning outcomes were in place for a long time, but at the college level they are new and therefore taking time to implement. It’s therefore unfair to immediately hold colleges accountable for those standards. Even the commissioners recognize they want to see progress but the full implementation of Student Learning Outcome is not due till 2012.
School just started?
Yes, it started in August. Applications increased by 14 percent, and we are offering 34 additional sections. Last year we educated 700 more FTS (Full Time Students) than the state funded us for, because there was a need and we met that need.
You just passed a $98 million dollar budget?
The important thing is we are really watching out spending very, very closely. We have not received any money from the state since July 1. We our paying our employees and conducting the business of the College through our reserve funds. If we had not had the reserve funds we would have been borrowing a long time ago and paying interest on that money.
Remember in these trying times we have had no furloughs, we have had no layoffs, we have had no salary cuts, and on the other hand we have given annual salary increases, we have put $200 thousand dollars additional into the employees health insurance cost so that the employees cost is maintained at the same level as it was last year.
With said why did the teachers give you a vote of no confidence?
I look at life very simply: we are here to put the students first. And that is what we are doing. We seek input from the constituent groups, but I think ultimately someone has to make the decision and I am willing to make the decision.
We have the Academic Senate and the various committees that participate, they give the input, we look into it, and then we make the final decision.
We have managed this college very well, we have additional faculty positions, we gave the sabbatical leaves this year which is an additional $57,000 cost which we absorbed this year.
It still seems, $98 million is not enough, how do you do it?
There are two categories the unrestricted and restricted budget.
Is the restricted budget separate from the $98 million?
Yes that is separate from the $98 million. That is called restricted funds and you can spend that money only on those restricted areas for which that money was given. For example, the EOPS/Disability Student Services. This year we are getting about $1.4 million dollars less in categorical aide, so we are taking from our savings $1 million dollars we are transferring so we do not cut services to our DSS/EOPS students. These are the students who need these services the most.
So despite the turmoil and the vote of no confidence you are still running an effective college?
I think the results speak for themselves. If you look at the financial picture perspective, if you look at it from the student perspective, if look at it from the academic support perspective, we are still managing the college. And we are doing what that simple thing we say: we are putting into practice student first and we are focusing on the needs of the student.
For updates and information on the accreditation process you can visit Southwestern Community College at: http://www.swccd.edu/2ndLevel/index.asp?L1=68