VISALIA — College of the Sequoias' administrators and professors are cramming for a final exam like no other: an accreditation visit this fall in which the college's future is at stake.
A group from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges will visit the campus in November, and the full commission will grade the college early next year.
An F would mean losing accreditation. If that happened, students couldn't get government loans and grants, college credits wouldn't transfer, and the college would be forced to close.
The threat of closure is real. In February, the commission told the college to shape up in areas ranging from campus dialogue to student counseling or risk losing accreditation.
As a result, the college is adopting new rules for governing, planning and budgeting for the school year starting in August, President Stan Carrizosa said.
A reminder of how high the stakes are was made clear last week when the commission announced it was yanking accreditation for City College of San Francisco as of July 31, 2014. The college is appealing the decision.
But Carrizosa said he doubts such a draconian measure is in store for College of the Sequoias.
"We'll have a few months under our belt before the commission visit" to operate under new policies, he said. "We feel good about that."
The accrediting commission cited seven areas for improvement, yet none involve the quality of education at the 14,000-student college, said Brent Calvin, vice president of student services.
Rather, they involve "internal planning process," such as planning, compiling and using data, human resources and student support services, he said.
In a report in October, the college will show that all areas have been addressed, administrators said.
"It's been humbling, but it's been good for us," Calvin said.
This week, the college's Board of Trustees adopted new policy manuals for governing and planning. A manual about budgeting is next.
The community can't afford to lose the college, retired educator Juan Villa of Visalia told board members during public comment at this week's meeting.
"It's really bothering me," Villa said, noting that complaints from the accrediting commission go back several years. "Why haven't we taken care of this?"
But Board President Lori Cardoza said the college's new manuals will save its accreditation.
"We know it's going to work," she said.
The commission wants the college to become a "policy-driven organization" instead of personality-driven, 20-year trustee John Zumwalt noted.
"We are really changing the way we are," he said.
Among the new policies is a requirement that faculty and administrators hold "dialogue days" once or twice a semester to talk about student learning.
Professor Thea Trimble, incoming president of the Academic Senate, said she likes the new policies because they spell out what faculty, administration, staff and students should do to make the college run smoothly.
"I think we are making progress. So does the faculty," she said.
But the real test will come when the college operates under the new policies, she said.
To meet the commission's recommendations, the college has also hired a director of research, planning and institutional effectiveness, beefed up counseling for evening students and those at the Hanford and Tulare centers, launched online counseling, and has all but finished the task of detailing continuous educational improvements in each class, officials said.
Carrizosa said the college followed the education code in setting up groups that advise the administration and board.
The Associated Student Body will be known as the Student Senate, giving student government a more formal role on campus, he said.
Student body president Raymundo Buenrostro said he welcomes the name change and other changes to come.
"I'm very positive it's going in the right direction," he said.
A long-standing council of faculty, administrators, staff and students is being upgraded to a District Senate, while the number of committees under it has been chopped from 49 to 14.
"We've got a lot of pieces in place to start changing the culture," Carrizosa said.
"We've got a lot of pieces in place to start changing the culture." — College of the Sequoias President Stan Carrizosa
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