SACS Takes Houston Community College System Off Probation
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has taken the Houston Community College System off probation after determining that administration and governance have stabilized.
With SACS removing the 50,449-student HCCS from being “on notice,” the college system no longer has any threat of losing accreditation.
“On a day-to-day basis, we stay focused,” HCCS chancellor Dr. Bruce Leslie said in a press release. Calling his priorities “dual track,” Leslie said HCCS continues providing “excellence in education” while maintaining and improving facilities to provide “safe and comfortable” campuses. An HCCS spokeswoman said Leslie had no additional comment on the SACS action.
HCCS is a Hispanic-serving institution, meaning that at least 25 percent of its students are Hispanic and of those, at least half qualify for Pell grants. In fact, Hispanic enrollment, making up 29 percent of HCCS’ student body, matches White enrollment. Meanwhile, Blacks make up 24 percent, Asians 14 percent, international students 3 percent and American Indians less than 1 percent.
In a January letter to Leslie, SACS official Dr. James Rogers said the Commission on Colleges had reviewed the progress and improvements HCCS had made in recent months. The SACS’ concerns were whether trustees had appropriate governing policies to oversee finances and operations; whether the college system had adequate buildings, equipment and other resources to carry out programs; and how HCCS ensured safe and secure campuses. In his letter, Rogers did not elaborate on HCCS improvements. He could not be reached by Black Issues for comment.
However, HCCS trustees interviewed in recent months have said they felt confident about the SACS review because relations among trustees have grown more amicable. They also remain staunchly supportive of Leslie, who earned a reputation as a turnaround leader at community college systems in Syracuse, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn., before being tapped for the Houston post in 2000. Among Leslie’s top priorities are surveying public support for a bond election and annexing more public school districts to the HCCS service area.
At worst, SACS could have stripped HCCS of accreditation if it did not meet association standards by this December.
The SACS scrutiny had resulted from reports of fighting between then-Chancellor Dr. Ruth Burgos-Sasscer and the trustees, elected from nine single-member districts. Burgos-Sasscer contended the trustees were micromanaging (see Black Issues, Dec. 6, 2001). Trustees complained the chancellor was too defensive about questions they asked before voting on issues at board meetings. They also accused Burgos-Sasscer, of Puerto Rican heritage, of neglecting Hispanic and other minority student priorities. Burgos-Sasscer accepted a severance package from trustees in June 2000.
In the January letter, Rogers of SACS asked Leslie to submit a follow-up report later this year about the following:
• Proof of a clear distinction between policy-making functions of the trustees and the administration’s responsibility to carry out policy.
• Update on expansion projects and the results of increased marketing and student recruitment in underserved areas of Houston.
• Evidence of the annual evaluation of deferred maintenance plans and facilities maintenance operational plans.
• Proof of finishing top-priority projects at a downtown campus, which is highly dilapidated.
In recent years, HCCS has consistently been one of the 20 largest singly accredited, higher education institutions nationally. Its budget tops $179 million.
— By Lydia Lum
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com