Accreditation team commends Culture of Professional Excellence

Publish Date: 
Mar 8, 2019

SALINAS, Calif. — A team of visiting educators concluded a seven-year accreditation review of the Hartnell Community College District on Thursday, March 7, with a ringing endorsement of how the college fulfills its mission of excellence and service to students and the community.

The 11-member assessment team from community colleges in California and Hawaii, representing the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), announced it was not making any recommendations for compliance, meaning they determined Hartnell meets all accreditation standards.

The four areas of standards are “Mission, Academic Quality and Institutional Effectiveness and Integrity,” “Student Learning Programs and Support Services,” “Resources” and “Leadership and Governance.”

Thursday’s team report almost certainly indicates Hartnell will remain fully accredited until its next scheduled assessment in 2026. The district serves more than 17,000 students a year on its Main Campus and Alisal Campus, which are both in Salinas, and at its King City Education Center and other locations in south Monterey County.

The good news received enthusiastic applause from about 120 Hartnell employees and students who gathered in the Student Center on the Main Campus in Salinas to hear the preliminary report.

Celebrating the outcome, Hartnell Superintendent/President Dr. Willard Lewallen prepared a campus-wide message of thanks and congratulations, calling it a “great day in the history of Hartnell College.”

“Based on the report delivered by the team chair,” Dr. Lewallen said, “we anticipate receiving reaffirmation of accreditation for seven years. Congratulations to everyone who has contributed to this exceptional outcome.

“There is a tremendous sense of pride at Hartnell College, and this was mentioned by the team chair in his report. Today that pride was on full display.”

The ACCJC evaluation team’s conclusions are based on its four-day visit, which included dozens of meetings with faculty, staff, students and community members, as well as a review of Hartnell’s 327-page self-evaluation report and independent research before and during the visit. The group included ACCJC President Dr. Richard Winn.

The evaluation team members was composed of both faculty and administrators who focused on the college’s fulfillment of standards within their own areas of expertise. Their preliminary report will be reviewed by the ACCJC, which is expected to deliver a final report to Hartnell in June.

“We are very impressed by Hartnell College, and we commend you on developing a culture of professional excellence,” said Willy Duncan, the team’s chair and superintendent/president of Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif. “… You know who you are as a college and as a community, and this sense of meaning and purpose permeates the entire organization.

“We were able to feel it. We found it from your staff, from your faculty and from your administration, and most importantly from your students and the community members we were able to talk to.”

Rather than citing any unmet standards, the team issued three formal commendations – for Hartnell’s work to support student success, forge community and industry partnerships and make data-driven decisions regarding academic programs and courses.

The following are excerpts from Duncan’s remarks on those areas of commendation:

  • Student success: “The team commends the college for successful implementation of its mission and commitment to student learning, student achievement and student participation. … It is very clear that you have defined what it is you want to accomplish, and it’s felt throughout the institution. And your students feel that; they told us so. … It’s a really positive feeling on campus in relationship to what you’re trying to accomplish in student learning and student achievement – and know that it’s felt by your students.”
  • Community partnerships: “The team commends the college for strong community and industry partnerships, as exemplified by the Alisal Campus, to provide resources, internships and employment opportunities that enhance its instructional programs. … It’s obvious you’re meeting their needs and their workforce needs in partnership with them as they’re trying to grow their businesses and develop their businesses and retool what it is they’re doing in the industry, so we felt that work was really excellent.”
  • Data-driven decision-making: “The team commends the college for creating a campus culture that values that values assessment as a process for approving programs and courses. Faculty have embraced student learning outcomes and assessment and use the evaluation process as a way to enact meaningful change.”

The ACCJC team also presented Hartnell with three recommendations for improvement, which Dr. Lewallen noted do not identify deficiencies but rather are intended to further elevate the college’s service to students and other stakeholders.

The recommendations were in the areas of library services, planning for long-term costs of new facilities and regularly updating its technology master plan.

The following are excerpts from Duncan’s remarks on those areas of recommended improvement:

  • Library services: In order to improve institutional effectiveness, the college should expand library support services at all centers through more immediate interaction with a librarian and access to expanded library collections. Overall, we were very impressed with the centers and the work that you’re doing. … But we also feel this is an area that some additional focus could benefit the college and its students.
  • Facility cost management: “The college should quantify projected ongoing costs, including additional maintenance, staff and operational costs, and identify a continued funding source when evaluating capital projects. … You’ve built a lot of wonderful facilities in previous years, and you’re building some more. You’ve got some bond funding, which is wonderful, and we recognize that you meet the standards.”
  • Technology planning: “In order to improve institutional effectiveness, the college should complete the technology master plan to guide future technology needs and ensure that future plans are updated prior to their expiration. ... The plan did sunset a year or so ago, so we recommend for you to be really effective in working that plan, you should update the plan and then maintain it once you have it updated.”

Dr. Lewallen, who joined Hartnell in 2012 and has announced his retirement this September, credited the ACCJC endorsement to a campus-wide commitment to continuously improve and uphold standards in everything from assessment of student learning outcomes to regular completion of employee performance evaluations. Most importantly, he said, there has been a relentless focus on student success.

He also pointed to establishment in 2012 of an Accreditation Council of faculty, staff and administrators who seek to continually ensure the college remains aligned with ACCJC standards as it evolves to meet changing needs.

“We implemented many strategies, initiatives, and systems, but that’s not enough,” Dr. Lewallen said. “It’s sustaining them. It’s sustaining the efforts across all the standards, and that’s been the secret to the whole thing – and that required resources, it required people, and we did that.”