The Aug. 8 article on the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) issuing a “notice of concern” to Big Bend Community College is a sober reminder of the importance of addressing the NWCCU recommendation to improve our process for assessing student learning. The notice of concern does not, however, change Big Bend’s accreditation status. Provided the college responds appropriately, the Commission will remove the concern.
The notice of concern also does not raise worries about the quality of Big Bend’s academic programming. When comparing Big Bend students’ success to students at colleges across the state and nation, our students are near or at the top. For example, Big Bend has been one of the top three Washington community colleges in Student Achievement Initiative points per student (a standard performance measure for colleges in the state) for the past five years. In the past two years, 2014-15 and 2015-16, Big Bend has been first in points per student. We have built successful programs that provide intensive, high-touch support for eligible students. Another example: as one of only 19 colleges nationwide participating in the Working Student Success Network Initiative, BBCC was credited with developing one of the most successful implementations of the initiative in our delivery of bundled services, which we refer to as “Guided Pathways for Student Services.”
The notice of concern accurately contends that Big Bend has not done a satisfactory job of establishing a system to document how we collect, track, and use information about students’ performance to improve our services. While Big Bend does an outstanding job as measured by multiple state and national standards, others cannot easily see how we achieve these enviable results.
Such documentation is key to a successful quality-improvement program. Being part of a voluntary association like accreditation includes a responsibility to establish systems to document how each college conducts business. With such documentation, successful colleges like Big Bend can help others improve their student outcomes; similarly, documentation at unsuccessful colleges can allow others to advise them of improvement strategies.
We are now implementing a new documentation system, collecting and analyzing information, and reporting how we use those results to budget for and enhance teaching of as well as services to students.
We are proud of the dedicated, talented, and hard-working faculty and staff members who serve students, and we are confident that we will successfully resolve the NWCCU’s concern. In doing so, we hope to allow other colleges to benefit from our successes and to strengthen further our students’ performance.
Juanita Richards is the Big Bend Community College Trustees chair. Terrence Leas is the president of Big Bend Community College.