What makes a college degree a college degree and who gets to say that it’s worth more than the piece of paper it’s printed on?
The short answer is the Higher Learning Commission.
Western Nebraska Community College hosted Jackie Freeze, a peer reviewer from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), marking a major milestone to ensuring the college maintains its status as an accredited higher learning institution.
The process is done routinely every 10 years.
Accreditation provides students, employers, licensing boards, and other colleges and universities assurance that students receive a quality education, according to the HLC website.
Freeze visited the college on Monday and met with a quorum of WNCC’s Board of Governors. She told the board this meeting was a follow-up to the April meeting.
“The process normally wouldn’t take this long,” Freeze told the board.
She added that the four-person accreditation team felt good about the college after their April visit, but that the HLC and the U.S. Department of Education required follow-up in-person visits for schools undergoing accreditation during the pandemic.
While the HLC is a private not-for-profit institution, it acts on behalf of the federal government when accrediting institutions like WNCC.
During the meeting, the board used the opportunity to laud its new president, Carmen Simone.
Board member Thomas Perkins credited Simone with reducing the college’s budget during the economic squeeze that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. Other members pointed to her data-driven approach as a positive to college leadership.
Freeze is the chair of a four-person team reviewing the colleges’ accredited status. She spent most of her career at Western Wyoming Community College as an adjunct faculty teaching marketing and an administrator.
Toward the end of the hour-long meeting, Freeze asked the board about future challenges the school faced.
Board Chair Lynne Klemke spoke first, expressing concern over the schools falling enrollment. WNCC’s fall enrollment is down 5.6%, according to a recent enrollment report. The decline continues a 10-year trend for the college creating major ripples throughout the school, from colleges finances to student activities.
Another point of concern was the lack of technical education at WNCC, according to Perkins.
“Next semester, we will have, hopefully, a diesel mechanics program opening up,” Perkins said.
Another major concern was access to broadband in the Panhandle.
“For some of our students, they had to go park outside their local library,” Klemke told Freeze, referring to the spring semester when COVID-19 closures shuttered on-campus services.
Another meeting in the accreditation process is scheduled for December.
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