Press "Enter" to skip to content

SUNY Community Colleges Face Accreditation Questions

Nine community colleges in the SUNY system in New York must provide their accrediting agency with proof of their financial viability. The accreditor, Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) wants the colleges to submit a supplemental information report that contains updated information about the schools’ enrollments.

Institutions that cannot provide satisfactory evidence of their financial well being could ultimately lose their accreditation. Middle States is particularly concerned with enrollment numbers because they are closely related to a community college’s overall financial health. Middle Stats asked two SUNY schools – Sullivan Community College in Loch Sheldrake, NY and Clinton Community College in Plattsburgh, NY to provide supplemental information reports on their financial health earlier this year. Shortly after Middle States received their reports, the agency issued warnings to both schools. A warning notifies a school that its accreditation is at risk.

Clinton Community College’s accreditation has been at risk since before the pandemic due to its precarious financial position. Recently, the school announced that it would move to the SUNY Pottsdam campus. Clinton will remain its own entity but will share facilities with Pottsdam to reduce its operating costs. The two institutions are less than five miles apart.

Cayuga Community College, Dutchess Community College, Fulton Montgomery Community College, Jefferson Community College, Schenectady Community College, Tompkins Community College and Ulster Community College also face questions from Middle States about their long-term financial viability.

Accreditation warnings point to failures of leadership

The question of viability is going to spread as community colleges continue to struggle with enrollment issues. But community college enrollment declines are merely symptoms of the real issue: for years, community colleges have neglected instructional programming to the point that a substantial number of community college degree programs can no longer generate a positive return-on-investment – if they ever did in the first place.

Community college executives have not insisted that their institutions develop high wage occupational and technical programs to attract students. They have not eliminated programs that fail to generate positive return on investment and have not implemented strategies to improve retention and graduation rates among students enrolled in degree programs. Additionally, they have utterly failed transfer students, as evidenced by the low number of community college students who successfully transfer to a four-year institution and the even lower number of community college students who complete a four-year degree.

This is what a failure of leadership looks like. Right now, community colleges offer few options for students to create a viable financial future for themselves; their executives have squandered both decades of public funding and the opportunities it was intended to provide. Accrediting agencies will have little choice but to come after declining institutions that preserve their top-heavy administrations as their facilities and finances crumble.

If it is even possible at this point, recovery will require hundreds of millions of dollars in new instructional program development. It will also require authentic oversight on the part of Trustees who have thus far been content to preside over the demise of the public’s investment in post-secondary education.

Photo Credit: Thibaud Saintin, via Flickr