The week of Oct. 14-18, distant storms were creating big waves along the beaches of Lincoln County. Fitting, as over the same few days, the staff, faculty, and students at Oregon Coast Community College were making waves of their own. The College welcomed a team of visitors to Lincoln County from Oct. 16 to 18. The group comprised an evaluating committee, sent on behalf of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). The visit marked the latest in a series of significant steps the College has taken in its ongoing effort to secure independent accreditation. The team was in Lincoln County to tour OCCC facilities and to meet with administrators, students, faculty, and staff.
Since July of 2014, OCCC has been actively pursuing an accelerated path towards independent accreditation. That work has involved evaluation, redesign, and improvement of virtually every College service area and program – and the formation of structures and processes to ensure continuity of such evaluation and improvement in the future, and ongoing measurement of mission fulfillment.
The work has also revolved around the production of exhaustive self-evaluation reports, which serve to provide staff, faculty, students, and stakeholders with updated information about the College’s progress while also providing the same data to evaluators and the NWCCU. In April 2018, the College hosted a different evaluation team. At the time, that group was helping to determine whether OCCC was prepared for “Initial Candidacy,” a critical milestone that institutions must reach before being eligible for consideration for independent accreditation. In July 2018, after reviewing the team’s findings, the NWCCU did grant OCCC Initial Candidacy.
“The visit this week from our NWCCU Evaluation Team has been both joyful and exhausting,” said OCCC President Dr. Birgitte Ryslinge. “I am so appreciative of all of the Board members, students, faculty, staff, and community members who turned out to meet with the evaluators over these three days to share their stories of how this College makes a difference every day. The verbal report at the exit meeting was highly laudatory (including five commendations) and also provided six recommendations on areas to focus our development. The visiting committee makes a confidential recommendation to the NWCCU Commission in January as to whether we will be awarded independence or asked to spend a couple more years in Candidacy. I can’t speculate on the outcome (literally, NWCCU standards prohibit me from doing so), but let’s just say that after this week I have a very good feeling about this.”
“I think we are an exemplary institution,” said Dan Lara, OCCC’s Chief Academic Officer. “While the visiting team called out the need for the college to retain its focus on the assessment of student learning and the evaluation of our programs and services, our faculty and staff have taken huge strides in these areas. Certainly more needs to be done, but the amount of progress made by the institution in the last 18 months is laudable, and would not have been possible without collegewide effort and commitment to meeting both the standards of the commission and the educational needs of the community we serve.” Lara also serves as OCCC’s Accreditation Liaison Officer.
Oregon Coast Community College currently delivers college credit instruction, certificates and degrees through its Educational Services Agreement with Portland Community College (PCC). PCC is accredited through the NWCCU. Credits, certificates and degrees earned at OCCC appear on PCC transcripts and are transferable to other institutions, subject to the specific policies of the receiving institutions.
Over the course of its 32-year history, OCCC has always been accredited through larger institutions, including Chemeketa, Clatsop, and Portland Community Colleges. However, since the College’s inception in 1987, independent accreditation has been the vision of the Board of Education. In July 2014, Dr. Birgitte Ryslinge was named president, and charged with leading the College to independent accreditation, which will permit OCCC to focus solely on its own mission and mission fulfillment.
As an independent institution, OCCC would oversee its own financial aid provision, it would set qualification standards for faculty, and it would have ultimate control over programs and services to offer, so as to best meet the needs of its students and the coastal communities it serves.
Now that the evaluating team has written its report, it will provide a confidential recommendation to the NWCCU, as to whether OCCC should be granted Independent Accreditation. The Commission’s decision, likely made in January 2020, will be delivered to OCCC representatives after that meeting in a formal letter. Nothing in this week’s visit implies or ensures eventual accreditation by the Commission.
Oregon Coast Community College is the last community college in the state to be accredited through a larger institution. Tillamook Bay and Columbia Gorge community colleges both secured independence in 2013.
Oregon Coast Community College serves students and community partners with facilities in Newport, Lincoln City, and Waldport. Explore the College’s website, at oregoncoastcc.org, to learn more. The College and the Lincoln County School District continue to partner on the innovated teacher education pathway, in which students can earn the bulk of a four-year teaching degree right here at home – excepting nine months at Western Oregon University – and enjoy job placement assistance and preferential hiring treatment here in Lincoln County upon completion. The College is also in the second year of its Early Childhood Education program, helping meet a profound need that is felt throughout Lincoln County while providing students with valuable skills for careers in that growing field.
In the photo: The NWCCU Evaluating Team, photographed at the end of their third day in Lincoln County. Pictured are, from left, OCCC’s mascot, Waverly; Valerie W. Martinez, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities; Dr. Deborah Casey Powell, Vice President of Student Affairs and Interim Vice President of Human Resources, Green River College; Dr. Melinda Coslor, Director of Library Services, Skagit Valley College; Dr. Rick Aman, President, College of Eastern Idaho; Dr. Birgitte Ryslinge, President, Oregon Coast Community College; Mr. Garth H. Sleight, Assoc. Dean of Academic Affairs, Miles Community College; Dr. Bryce Humpherys, Vice President of Learning and Student Success, Big Bend Community College; Mr. Steve Ward, Vice President, Finance & Administration, Centralia College,