THE ROAD TO ACCREDITATION
Note: This is the third and final article in a series on El Camino Compton Center’s accreditation effort.
COMPTON—It has been six years since the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges revoked Compton Community College’s accreditation. At the time it was estimated that it would take six to 10 years to earn it back.
There are fallacies in that estimation that shed new light on the timeframe and the procedure necessary for the only college located in the city of Compton to become accredited as a separate learning institution again. Understanding the past
When the college had its accreditation revoked because of financial mismanagement by the Compton Community College District Board of Trustees it was $200,000 short of its payroll and it was on the brink of closure. The only thing that kept the campus open was an agreement entered into by the Compton district and the El Camino Community College District. The details were defined in Assembly Bill 318, which was passed for the specific purpose of providing a way to keep an accredited college open to serve students in the Compton district.
In addition to the granting of a loan from the state, the bill specified that the college would be an adjunct facility of El Camino Community College. As such, El Camino was charged with the responsibility of earning accreditation from the ACCJC.
The Compton Community College District continues to operate, focusing on the district’s financial status and conducting its business. However, the board members are not empowered to vote on issues facing the district. That responsibility has gone to a special trustee appointed by the state chancellor of education. Thomas Henry currently holds that position.
But Compton Community College no longer exists. It is now El Camino Community College Compton Center.
Herein lies the basis for misunderstandings that have plagued the accreditation effort from the beginning. Rumors of highjacking
Members of the Compton community were astounded and outraged to find their college being run by another district. Rumors of a takeover were rampant. Those within the education community were concerned that the Compton district was charged with running its business, yet had no vote at board meetings. Board members were not even allowed seats on the dais.
There were suspicions that El Camino was in the process of appropriating the college, that commercial interests were plotting to close it down and develop the land, either as a residential development, a shopping center — or even a prison.
Members of the Compton Board of Trustees were hostile toward the special trustee and the administration of El Camino Community College.
At the same time, the ACCJC demanded that all of the signage of the college be changed to reflect its new status as part of El Camino College. To members of the Concerned Citizens of Compton and the community-at-large, this was further proof that their suspicions were correct and that Compton’s college was systematically being taken away from the community.
The controversial appointment of Special Trustee Dr. Genethia Hudley-Hayes added fuel to the fire. A pull-no-punches personality, she repeatedly offended members of the Concerned Citizens with blistering statements about the Compton Board of Trustees and the district in general .
When Hudley-Hayes fired Dr. Lawrence Cox, the popular and trusted president and CEO of the college, an outraged community of supporters of the college wrote to Chancellor Jack Scott and Gov. Jerry Brown, expressing their belief that the special trustee was destroying the college and the board and demanding action.
The matter was resolved unexpectedly when Hudley-Hayes submitted a consultant laden budget that El Camino College President Dr. Thomas Fallo refused to approve. AB318 specified that El Camino could pull out of the partnership with Compton if he could not approve the district’s budget.
“This was the most critical situation we had been in since the accreditation was revoked,” Special Trustee Thomas Henry told The Bulletin in an exclusive interview. “Once again we were on the verge of closing the college down. Contrary to what a lot of people believed, there was no other college willing to replace El Camino in the partnership. If El Camino had pulled out of the partnership it would have continued to serve the students, but from its campus in Torrance. Our primary concern, as it had been in 2006 when accreditation was revoked, was to keep the college open in the community. It still remains my primary focus.”
A new direction
Henry replaced Hudley-Hayes. A veteran of accreditation efforts in community colleges throughout the state, Henry was adept at handling situations involved with the process, but he had limitations.
“To my knowledge, no other community college in the nation had ever had its accreditation revoked,” Henry said. “This was strange territory. We didn’t have a template or precedent to follow. We had to figure it out as we went along. For the first three years, we were getting our sea legs. Mistakes were made, but never for underhanded purposes. It’s true that the Compton board was in a difficult position, being told that their participation was critical to the accreditation process yet they were prevented from official action.”
Both Fallo and Henry agreed on a basic premise: That the first order of business was to build an administration team that could work together, not only to take each step in the process, but to figure out a method for doing so.
“I think we now have what we need, with the appointment of Dr. Keith Curry as interim CEO of the Compton Center,” said Fallo, also in an exclusive interview with The Bulletin.
“Mr. Henry is a team builder and his skills in navigating delicate situations is well known in the education community. Dr. Curry has been an enthusiastic communicator and has reached out to every group in the city to keep them abreast of the status of the accreditation effort. The Compton Board of Trustees has responded well to Mr. Henry’s approach to managing the district. The bottom line is that the strife we saw at the beginning seems to have gone and there is a new spirit of cooperation among everyone involved in the effort.”
The cooperation of the Compton board is especially critical to accreditation. “One of the requirements is that the board demonstrate the ability to achieve financial solvency and sustain it over a period of time,” Henry said. “The Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team is following the board’s actions closely. While it’s true that the board does not make the crucial decisions, it is extremely important for it to show professional and capable conduct and to demonstrate a spirit of cooperation with the El Camino administration. In order to show sustainability, the board needs to submit its financial reports on time and they must stand up to audits by FCMAT.”
The effort goes off track
Hudley-Hayes was the first to announce that the district had not satisfied that requirement because it had submitted its reports late and riddled with questionable figures, and that the accreditation effort was “back where it started.” Community members and college supporters, already suspicious and disappointed with the extended time frame for accreditation, were discouraged to learn that, despite six years of concentrated effort, accreditation was still nearly 10 years away.
Two entities are involved with accreditation of the El Camino College Compton Center. The ACCJC requires that the college meet its own criteria in all areas of operation. Members of the panel tour the college regularly and submit reports whether those criteria are being met.
Once all criteria are being met on a continuing basis, El Camino College can apply for eligibility status, and once eligibility is granted, the next step is a provisional accreditation.
FCMAT is responsible for ensuring that the Compton Board of Trustees manages its business effectively and maintains financial solvency. The team relies on a lengthy report done in 2006 detailing shortcomings in each area of operation, assigning a numerical value to reflect progress in subsequent reports.
“Just the reports alone stretch the time frame,” said Henry. “We also have to create and submit reports, which also takes considerable time. Then there is time between reports for us to improve in areas as needed. So it is not a quick process by any means.”
There is one aspect of the ACCJC’s actions Henry is certain of. “The ACCJC is using the same set of standards it uses for all colleges seeking accreditation,” he said. “The circumstances under which Compton’s accreditation was revoked have no bearing on the process. Areas for improvement are defined on the basis of the current status in each report. ACCJC looks at educational operations — quality education, student learning, student services, whether students receive an education that will properly support their goals.”
FCMAT, however is a different story. “FCMAT’s responsibility is financial management,” Henry said. “Its reports center around the financial functions of the college and the board. The ACCJC gives great weight to the FCMAT reports.”
The path to success
While neither Henry nor Fallo is able
to predict how long accreditation is likely to take — it could be anywhere from six more years to 10 — both agree that progress is now being made. They credit the cooperative spirit between the board of trustees, Henry, Fallo and Curry for ushering in a new day in the journey toward accreditation. But a recent meeting of the board of trustees showed some cause for concern. At the meeting, held on May 16, Henry announced his choice for the new trustee area map, required by the state as part of the Voting Rights Act of 2001. Some members of the board disagreed with the option chosen by Henry. The option they wanted would change the trustee areas least, despite the fact that the district is being sued for violation of the Voting Rights Act in its then-current trustee area map. Not only was there adamant disagreement. Profanity was used, and one member resigned and walked out of the meeting. Worse yet, FCMAT was there to witness it all. While Henry, Curry and Fallo have engaged in damage control, all are concerned that the actions at the meeting reflected a failure to perform professionally or in the best interest of the college. “If we are going to earn accreditation, we have to show that we can function in a professional and cooperative manner,” said Fallo. “We’ll get nowhere if we don’t. The first years of the partnership have been a learning experience. There has never been a situation like this and there is no sample upon which we can base our plan of action. It isn’t that we achieved nothing during those years. We achieved a great deal. We put together a team of people who are all on the same page and who will work creatively and aggressively to get the job done. We also have learned our way around the accreditation process, and we know where we’re going now. That’s a lot of progress.” As to the word on the street, things may be calming down. “I think most of the community realizes that the college is a remote campus of El Camino College,” said Henry. “I think they understand that this isn’t a simple matter of ‘earning back’ its accreditation. It’s not correct to say the college ‘lost’ its accreditation. It’s accreditation was revoked. That’s an important distinction. And it’s El Camino that has to get its remote campus accredited as a separate entity.” “I hope that the community is beginning to understand this,” said Fallo. “Running the college and seeking accreditation must be done by us. And we are committed to the effort. But the financial solvency of the Compton Community College District directly affects the status of El Camino in the eyes of the ACCJC. It is important that we accomplish accreditation without jeopardizing our operation.” But the question remains — How much longer? There is no clear cut answer. “It all depends on the length of time it takes to clear up all the deficiencies and get the reports done,” said Henry. “I’d say the longest period of time will be getting eligibility status. There are many areas along the way that could take longer or could end up taking less time than we estimate.” The important thing is that the effort remains ongoing and that El Camino stays in the partnership. Beyond that, there is the daily function common to all colleges everywhere. “My position remains the same,” said Henry. “I want to keep the doors open. And I want to provide the students in the Compton Community College District with the best education and training we can give them. I truly believe everything else will fall into place if we continue down the path we are on now.”