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BCCC warned its accreditation could be in jeopardy

Baltimore City Community College has been warned that its accreditation could be in jeopardy amid concerns about its focus, goals and effectiveness, just two years after the college was taken off probation over fixing problems with its assessment of student learning.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which accredits colleges and universities in Maryland and several other states and U.S. territories, placed BCCC on "warn" status at its meeting June 26. The action was made public Thursday.

The accrediting body said BCCC doesn't have a well-developed strategic plan, which could then help the university better allocate spending. The college also published incorrect or outdated information in some student materials, and its self-assessment process needed improvement, the commission concluded.

When the Middle States Commission places a college on warn status, it means the body is confident that the institution can fix its problems within two years. BCCC was also previously on probation status, the next-most-serious accreditation action.

BCCC interim President Carolyn Hull Anderson sought to reassure students and other members of the community that the college, which enrolls about 18,000 students, would remain open and accredited while on warn status. The college has arranged a group of officials to work on addressing the concerns, she said.

Anderson said her administration was working to fix the issues with a "strong sense of urgency."

"Our focus really is on moving forward," Anderson said. "We have no doubt that we can meet the requirements of Middle States. We're not going to be in this position again."

Middle States Commission spokesman Richard J. Pokrass said that BCCC was found out of compliance with four of the 14 accreditation standards, which he called "a little on the high side," but emphasized that revoking a college's accreditation is rare.

"There's nothing to believe that the loss of accreditation is imminent," Pokrass said. "There are serious things that they have to do to come back into compliance, but it's not the end of the world and [the college community doesn't] have to worry."

The Middle States Commission can revoke a school's accreditation if concerns are not addressed. Colleges that lose their accreditation usually shut down because their students are no longer eligible for federal financial aid, and many employers will not accept degrees from colleges that are not accredited.

The Middle States Commission ordered the college to produce a report by March 2015, after which representatives from the body will visit the campus. The report must show that BCCC is providing accurate information about the college to the Middle States Commission and to the public, a concern Anderson said lies with ensuring that information on the school's website and printed publications matches and is up to date.

The college must also beef up its strategic plan and the system it has in place to evaluate its own effectiveness. Anderson said the commission also wanted to see the college create budget projections further into the future.

In 2011, the Middle States Commission put BCCC on probation status amid concerns about the school's ability to evaluate student learning. BCCC was taken off probation and had its accreditation reaffirmed about a year later after the Middle States Commission concluded the college had resolved the issue. BCCC was also warned in 2004 after it failed to submit a report on deadline, but its accreditation was reaffirmed two months later, Pokrass said.

BCCC has faced a drop in enrollment of more than 20 percent in recent years, and in a report to the Middle States Commission cited enrollment and the loss of tuition revenue as its most pressing concerns. The college's former president, Carolane Williams, was forced out in 2012 amid a string of controversies, and the college continues to search for her replacement.

The loss of other revenue sources has been another challenge for the college, Anderson said. Besides a loss of tuition revenue from the enrollment decline, the college has also seen some of its state support cut — $1.2 million in the last month, she said. BCCC is the only community college funded by the state.

"It's a great team here, but we're going to be struggling to make sure we keep the dollars where they need to be," Anderson said.

BCCC is not the only Maryland college to face scrutiny from the accrediting body this year. In March, Sojourner-Douglass College in Baltimore was ordered to show cause as to why its accreditation should not be revoked, the most serious step the Middle States Commission can take before pulling a school's accreditation.

The Middle States Commission did not cite any problems with the school's academics but was concerned about its finances. Court records show the Internal Revenue Service filed three federal tax liens totaling about $5 million against Sojourner-Douglass in January and February. And in Sojourner-Douglass' 2011 federal tax filings, the latest publicly available, the college said that it had nearly $16 million in liabilities and $18 million in assets.

The Middle States Commission ordered the college to demonstrate by a September deadline that it could fix its finances and create a plan to accommodate students in case accreditation was revoked. The accrediting body meets three times a year and is expected to re-evaluate the Sojourner-Douglass case at its next meeting in November.

In 2011, the Middle States Commission also revoked the accreditation of Baltimore International College, a private institution that taught cooking skills and hospitality management.

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