The sky isn't falling at L.A. community colleges

In its July 21 editorial, "A key test for L.A.’s community colleges,” The Times writes that Los Angeles City College and L.A. Trade-Technical College were recently placed on probation by accreditors for failing to conduct program reviews. As The Times notes, this would mean that the colleges have no way of knowing whether they're doing a good job educating their students

This is not the case.

Both colleges have formal program review processes, and both have used them for years to measure and improve program effectiveness. At L.A. City College, thorough program review and program viability processes have been in place for nearly two decades, and these processes have been used successfully to strengthen and reshape many instructional programs. At L.A. Trade-Tech, a new Web-based version of program review was developed two years ago; this version links program effectiveness directly to the achievement of learning outcomes defined for each course and program.

At both colleges, program effectiveness is regularly evaluated by using several benchmarks, including student retention rates, whether students are actually succeeding in the classroom and more. In addition, the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees assesses overall college and district effectiveness every year during its review of the state's annual "ARCC” accountability report on the performance of California's community colleges, a process required by law since 2004. Conducted at a public hearing each fall, this annual review includes all key measures of college effectiveness, including graduation, certification and transfer rates as well as various student success and progress rates for all basic skills, including English proficiency and math.

The recommendations made by the accreditor are far less worrisome than The Times makes them out to be. The accreditor directs L.A. City College to "more systematically use the results of program/unit reviews to continually refine and improve program practices." Accreditors direct L.A. Trade-Tech to "ensure that the current program review process is transparent and clearly communicated to the college constituencies."

In addition, the accreditor recommends that both colleges link program review more tightly with formal assessment of what are known as Student Learning Outcomes. The implementation of this assessment is part of a statewide accreditor-led initiative that is not expected to be complete until 2012. At this point, few (if any) colleges or universities in the state -- including campuses in the California State University and University of California systems -- have completed the process of thoroughly integrating learning outcome assessment into all aspects of program review.

The thousands of dedicated faculty and staff who make up the Los Angeles Community College District want the public to know that we take accreditation recommendations very seriously and that we are proud of our efforts to improve all of our educational programs. We are also proud of our track record for program excellence. Both L.A. City College and L.A. Trade-Tech received numerous commendations from the visiting accreditation team. In fact, it's worth noting that L.A. Trade-Tech was commended for having 21 programs ranked "No. 1" in California, 44 in the top five and 53 in the top 10. That's an unmatched record of achievement.

And that's why we are confident that the results of the recent accreditor visits will leave these colleges stronger than ever. We only wish that The Times would support this effort by reporting fairly on this issue and the many accomplishments of our colleges.

Gary Colombo is vice chancellor for institutional effectiveness at the Los Angeles Community College District.