Columbia Gorge Community College has completed its seven-year journey to achieve independent accreditation.
The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities announced Wednesday that the gorge college had earned more flexibility to develop instructional programs and provide services to students.
That news on July 17 had Dr. Frank Toda, president of the college “doing a happy dance.”
“It is definitely an exciting moment in time for the college,” he said. “I’m always talking about education being that step that we stand upon to look beyond the fence, beyond the barrier that is and was, to the place of hope and opportunities. We’re now standing solidly on that step with 163 other accredited colleges and universities in the states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.”
The college has campuses in The Dalles and Hood River and the news that programs will no longer have to operate under the umbrella of Portland Community College also pleased Hood River County Administrator David Meriwether.
“Great news! Congratulations to everyone involved for this milestone accomplishment,” he wrote in response to an email widely distributed July 17 by Dan Spatz, development director for the college. CGCC has operated since its establishment in 1977 as Treaty Oak Community College through a contract with Portland Community College, which has supported the gorge college’s move toward autonomy.
Graduates will now have diplomas in the name of the gorge college instead of PCC.
Student records will also be stored on the local campuses so accessing data will no longer involve time delays. CGCC will be able to maintain its own transcripts, award financial aid and plan its own curriculum, which Toda said will allow some customization of programs to meet regional workforce needs.
“Being in charge of our own destiny gives us the agility to be more responsive and responsible,” he said. “This is a very good thing, since we allocate about $6 million a year in financial aid to our students.”
He said independent accreditation is a milestone, not a destination. The distinction brings with it the requirement for continual evaluation and improvement. He said specific measures will be used to determine how the institution is meeting its mission of “Building dreams and transforming lives by providing life-long educational opportunities that strengthen our community.”
“That process will never end,” said Toda. “The completion of this chapter in our book of history is a demonstration of our commitment to the communities we serve. As we look forward to the future, this is the end of one journey and the beginning of a new one.”
Because CGCC has long handled its own budget issues, administrators say not a lot will change on that front.
In April, an evaluation team from the commission made their fourth and final visit to The Dalles campus. That group is comprised of educators from community colleges outside Oregon. Interviews were conducted with students, staff, faculty, board of education members and steering committee members who had undertaken the task of meeting standards set by the commission.
In June, Toda, Brian Greene, interim chief academic officer and Dr. Ernie Keller, a member of the board, traveled to Seattle to address final questions from evaluators.