SMC Board of Trustees prepares for Higher Learning Commission reaffirmation visit

DOWAGIAC — At its monthly meeting on Wednesday, April 14, the Southwestern Michigan College Board of Trustees reviewed final preparations and the schedule for the visit of the Higher Learning Commission’s evaluation team on April 19-20.

The HLC is one of five regional organizations designated by the U.S. Department of Education to periodically review the operations, policies and procedures of all colleges and universities in a “peer review”-type process. An extensive written document submitted by the institution is thoroughly examined by a team of professionals from other colleges and then followed up with an on-site visit consisting of campus tours, audits of certain records and several days of meetings with administration, faculty, staff and the entire Board of Trustees itself. SMC submitted its official written argument for reaccreditation on March 19.

The team evaluating SMC includes Mr. Lloyd Hammonds, Retired Vice Chair of the District Governing Board of Coconino Community College in Arizona; Ms. Celeste Donovan, Vice President of Student Services for Seward Community College in Kansas; Dr. Adam Hayashi, Interim Dean, Staples, Nursing & Grants at Central Lakes College in Minnesota; Dr. Laura DeHaan, Dean for Academic Administration at Calvin University in Michigan; and Mrs. Barbara Jean Jascor, Dean for Health & Human Services at Moraine Park Technical College in Wisconsin.

“I feel very good about where SMC is right now, but also acknowledge that we are not perfect,” said VP of Instruction Dr. Dave Fleming. “This evaluation process is an independent assessment of what we are doing well and where we need to keep working.”

“This is an enormous undertaking with any campus and the Board appreciates all of the time and energy that all participants have put into the HLC reaffirmation project to make SMC even better for our current and future students,” added Chairman Tom Jerdon.

SMC was last accredited during the 2010-2011 academic year with a very positive report, but the principle of continuous improvement applies.

As President Dr. Joe Odenwald put it: “This is similar to controlling your cholesterol level. While it gets checked periodically, managing it well is a matter of good behavior over months and years and decades,” said President Joe Odenwald.

HLC’s assessment of SMC for this cycle is expected to be completed by the end of May.

In his President’s Report, Dr. Odenwald described how he had visited five other college campuses during spring break, meeting with administrators to review facilities and discuss best practices. He expressed “an even deeper gratitude for what we have here at SMC. Our academic buildings and residence halls are in great shape, and we have about the right number for the students we expect to serve.”

Odenwald confirmed that at this point, even with the recent rise in cases of COVID-19 statewide, SMC’s 54th Commencement is still scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday, May 14 for the School of Arts and Sciences and 10 a.m. Saturday, May 15 for the Schools of Business, Advanced Technology, Nursing and Health Services. Both ceremonies will be held in Alumni Plaza. The Outstanding Graduate Reception in the same outdoor setting also remains scheduled at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 12.

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