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Accreditation committee to visit Chemeketa

By Matthew Skog

In the world of higher education, even colleges have to take tests.

From April 8 to 10, evaluators from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities will be at Chemeketa’s Salem campus to evaluate the college’s performance and fulfillment of its mission.

The committee’s recommendation could affect the college’s reputation, and even the ability of students to receive financial aid.

“Accreditation impacts students,” Deborah Sipe, the college’s Dean of Teaching and Learning, said.

Sipe is Chemeketa’s accreditation liaison officer.

“If a college is not accredited, it cannot receive financial aid for students,” she said. “It’s also important for the reputation of the college. If a college is not accredited, it isn’t perceived as a quality institution.”

Sipe said that the evaluators wanted to hear from students during the time they spend here.

“The visitors will be talking to many people across the college, including students,” she said. “They’ll be gathering information and validating that we’re doing what we’ve said we’re doing.”

The accreditation process has a seven-year cycle.

“The accrediting body requires reports at three different points during the accreditation cycle,” Sipe said. “The commission requires reports in the first, third, and the seventh years of the cycle.”

Chemeketa just completed its Year Seven report.

“A site visit is required by the commission for the Year Seven report,” Sipe said. “The commission sends trained evaluators to see if the college is actually fulfilling its mission.”

Chemeketa president Julie Huckestein believes the evaluators will be impressed by the college.

“In the self-evaluation document, they were reading about the college,” Huckestein said. “But until you actually get to the college and hear from the people who are there, that tells so much more about the college than what someone’s written about it.

“When they get here, they’ll get to actually experience the college.”

The college will hold forums for students, faculty, and classified employees to speak with the evaluators.

“There will be three forums, and one of them will be specifically for students,” Sipe said. “The evaluators will come and talk with students and get students feedback.”

The student forum takes place at 11:30 a.m. on April 9 in the Multicultural Center. Pizza and refreshments will be provided.

“That’s an opportunity for students to express their opinion – to tell the evaluators what they think of their educational experience at Chemeketa,” Sipe said. “The evaluators will be very interested in hearing from students about their experience.”

Huckestein encourages students to attend the student forum.

“We want students to share their stories,” she said. “That’s why we’re here. We’re here for students, and we want the evaluators to get a good understanding from students about their experience, and whether they believe we’re fulfilling our mission.”

While the stakes are high and far from guaranteed, Sipe is confident that Chemeketa is prepared.

“What can happen is the visitors can say ‘you pass, no problem,’ they can say ‘you pass, but you really need to work on these things’ and give some recommendations, or they can say ‘you didn’t pass.’ Generally what happens is a college will get a recommendation or two,” she said.

“For example, Lane Community College recently had its accreditation review. They have several recommendations that they need to address. If they meet those satisfactorily and provide evidence that they’ve met them, then their accreditation will continue. If a college were to not meet those recommendations within the given period of time, it can lose its accreditation.”

Chemeketa has never lost its accreditation.

Sipe believes that the accreditation process will make Chemeketa stronger as a whole.

“Chemeketa has had continuing affirmation of its accreditation essentially since it was founded,” she said. “But, the standards are high, and you have to work hard to meet those standards. But that’s a good thing.

“The spirit of the accreditation process isn’t just to give you standards of quality, but to encourage you to continuously improve. That attitude is present in the process and in how the evaluators look at what you’ve done.”

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