Nassau Community College has been placed on probation by its accrediting agency because it is out of compliance with seven of 14 standards, including stable leadership, integrity, planning, and financial resources, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education said in a decision issued Tuesday.
The college will remain accredited while on probation. It must provide a monitoring report by Nov. 1 documenting how NCC is meeting the independent agency’s benchmarks. Middle States, based in Philadelphia, gives institutions as much as two years to correct areas of noncompliance.
The commission’s decision, made at its meeting Thursday, followed a report from an eight-member Middle States review team, which visited the Garden City school in March and noted the deficiencies in an April report to the commission.
“It is quite serious for a college or university to be placed on probation,” Middle States spokesman Richard Pokrass said Tuesday. “Many institutions that have been placed on warning or probation in the past have returned to compliance in 12 to 18 months, while some have taken a bit longer. The important thing to emphasize is that the time limit is real. During the time Nassau is on probation, the commission staff will be monitoring the situation and offering advice where necessary.”
Thomas P. Dolan, NCC’s interim president, said in a letter emailed to the NCC community that Middle States’ action “places extensive demands on this institution, and it deserves a close read and careful consideration. The list of expectations is daunting, especially in light of a very short time frame directed for compliance.”
The probationary status is the latest blow to NCC, which has been roiled for years by a prolonged search for a new president, allegations of political patronage and a vocal faculty that has clashed with administrators on the institution’s governance, educational and budgetary priorities. The school, with 22,000 students, is the largest single-campus community college in the state’s public 64-campus system.
NCC’s leadership is due to change Aug. 1, when Farmingdale State College President W. Hubert Keen takes over as president.
Keen, 71, selected by NCC board members upon recommendation of State University of New York trustees, led Farmingdale State for the past nine years and is widely credited with guiding that institution through a period of significant enrollment growth, expansion of academic programs and nearly $200 million in campus construction and renovation.
He will be the first permanent president to take the helm at NCC since the departure of Donald Astrab in 2012. Astrab was president for 30 months and received two votes of no confidence from the Academic Senate.
Pokrass said NCC’s hiring of a new leader, as related to the commission’s considerations, “would have an impact only if the new president can get the institution to take the steps necessary to return to compliance with the commission’s accreditation standards. The commission does not deal with speculation, only results, and it is vital for the college to address the commission’s concerns.”
Accreditation by the agency includes use of standards to gauge the quality of institutions. Losing it could put federal student aid programs at risk and affect everything from a school’s reputation to its enrollment to its budget.
Pokrass said NCC is one of two institutions currently placed on probation by Middle States; the other is Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, a four-year school west of Philadelphia. Another 10 are on warning status. The agency accredits 528 schools in several states and U.S. territories.
The commission, in its decision, noted that NCC did not provide enough evidence to show it is in compliance with these standards: planning and resources and institutional renewal; institutional resources; leadership and governance; administration; integrity; institutional assessment; and assessment of student learning.
NCC must demonstrate that it provides a climate that fosters respect among students, faculty, staff and administration, fair and impartial practices in hiring employees, effective policies and procedures for tracking and resolving student complaints, and assurance of due process in student discipline policies and procedures, the accrediting agency said.
In addition, the college must show it can complete long-range planning goals and objectives that link academic facilities, technology and enrollment management, as well as a process for financial planning and budgeting and a “well-defined system of collegial governance.”
After the college submits the monitoring report, the commission will send a team for an on-site visit to assess compliance with the agency’s standards and policies. The monitoring report, the team report and the school’s response to the team report will be considered first by a commission committee and then by the commission.
Kimberly Reiser, president of the advocacy chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said, “We are hopeful that under Dr. Keen’s leadership we will be able to comply with the seven standards we failed.” She noted, however, that Keen takes over as president on Aug. 1 and the college’s response is due Nov. 1.
She also said an independent consultant should be brought in to help the college meet the commission’s standards.
“The Academic Senate has called for an independent consultant to assist us in this process,” Reiser said. “We certainly hope such a consultant from outside Nassau County will be hired to help us meet this next challenge.”
NCC’s approved budget for 2016-17 is $211,672,134, comprising a mix of tuition payments and money from the state and Nassau County. Tuition for the coming school year was just raised by $334.
Tuition for Nassau residents taking at least a 12-credit course load in the 2015-16 academic year was $2,267 per semester.