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SCCC put on warning by accrediting agency

The Suffolk County Community College Michael J. Grant

The Suffolk County Community College Michael J. Grant Campus in Brentwood. (Feb. 6, 2013) Credit: Barry Sloan

Suffolk County Community College is on warning by an important regional accrediting body -- the second time the state's largest community college has been cited in three years.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education said this week that officials at the two-year college failed to show they were assessing the institution's effectiveness and using those measurements to improve the allocation of resources and student learning.

Though the college's accreditation may be in jeopardy, the school still is accredited while on warning, said Richard Pokrass, spokesman for the Middle States commission. The agency issued an online public disclosure statement regarding SCCC's warning dated Nov. 15, after a routine review.

College officials said they are working to address the concerns and are confident that a new strategic plan, due to the accrediting agency by Sept. 1, will bring the school into full compliance.

SCCC, with an operating budget of $193.7 million, has an enrollment of about 26,000 students on campuses in Brentwood, Riverhead and Selden.

Without the Middle States accreditation, students would not be eligible for federal financial aid such as Pell grants and Stafford loans.

"It's the linchpin for being an institution, so it is critical to any college," said Mary Lou Araneo, SCCC's vice president for institutional advancement.

Araneo said the college immediately convened a task force that included faculty, librarians and administrators to address the citation. Middle States' action came after the school in the fall submitted its periodic review, at the midpoint of the 10-year accreditation.

The college's board of trustees last month approved a list of 16 quantitative institutional objectives that will be part of the strategic plan to be submitted to Middle States, Araneo said.

The list includes plans to raise retention and graduation rates, reduce operational costs, expand relationships with employers and school districts, and better reflect the ethnic and economic makeup of Suffolk County residents.

Ellen Schuler Mauk, president of the Faculty Association-Suffolk Community College, said there's been full communication and involvement of the campus community.

"I'm fully confident that when we finish our review, we will come off this warning," Schuler Mauk said.

SCCC has been a member of Middle States since 1966. The school has two years to correct the warning before it would lose its accreditation, Pokrass said.

"Anybody who's attending the college currently or attending in the future should not be concerned, because it does not mean the loss of accreditation is imminent," Pokrass said.

Currently, 21 schools are on warning out of the agency's 525 member institutions, which include colleges, seminaries and military academies in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and other locations abroad, Pokrass said.

In 2009, Middle States issued SCCC a warning that was quickly remedied. The accrediting agency had found that Suffolk, under County Executive Steve Levy, exerted too much fiscal and operational control over the college.

Since then, college officials showed it had a relationship with the county that provided more autonomy to the college and its trustees, Araneo said.

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