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Facing Loss of Accreditation, City College of San Francisco Revamps Technology

Last June, City College of San Francisco found itself facing an institution's worst nightmare: losing accreditation. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges voted to terminate the college's accreditation effective July 31, 2014.

While a series of appeals and litigation plays out on the political side, the college is working hard to address a variety of needs on campus — particularly in the realm of student services — in order to meet accreditation requirements. The school has turned to Ellucian, for example, to revamp its administrative systems and better support student success.

"We are partnering with Ellucian to get us on the right path to using best practices in Banner to streamline the processes for our students to enroll, receive financial aid, develop educational plans and accomplish other administrative tasks," said Ron Gerhard, the college's vice chancellor of finance and administration, in a press release. "This progress is important to our students' success and to meeting the requirements of the accrediting agency."

The college's top priority is to institute an electronic student education plan, according to Fabienne Naples, vice chancellor of student services. "Right now it is very confusing for students to follow a coherent pathway through the system," she told Campus Technology. "The No. 1 thing is that there should be a clearer pathway through the institution through a student ed plan. And students can change that plan if they want to, but if you come in and you don't know what classes to take or you don't even know what you're interested in, you're kind of spinning around in a circle."

The student education plan is also tied to funding and compliance issues, explained Naples. "The Student Success Act of 2012 is mandating all California community colleges have this instrument for students to give them a clearer pathway through the college," she said. "Next year, what's been formerly known as matriculation funding will be called student success funding, and will rely heavily upon the completion of comprehensive student ed plans for funding. So it's quite an intense period for us right now, because we're trying to establish a baseline; we're trying to move all of our counselors toward using the electronic ed plan."

Adding to the challenge is City College's diverse student population. The institution serves 85,000-plus students, both credit non-credit. "Right now, our non-credit system for registration and our noncredit courses are all done manually," said Naples. The school has piloted an online system, she said, "but we're challenged because of the sheer volume of different languages that are spoken in San Francisco. So just to say, 'Oh we're going to put services online,' isn't going to hit the mark. We're really making a transition in many ways, from manual systems to technical systems. But there's the human element involved and we're very sensitive to that."

The college would like to implement self-service access to the ed plan for students, but for now that will have to wait until phase two. "Our future hope is that we have a degree audit program like Degree Works," said Naples. "But we're building from the foundation on up right now."

The student ed plan is part of an overall effort to maximize the use and efficiency of City College's Banner ERP system, noted Jay Field, chief technology officer at the institution. In the past, the college has struggled to streamline its administration due to deep cuts in IT funding and an understaffed IT department. "This is an opportunity for us to improve our processes, to make better use of a product that's been here for quite a while, to help the college update its view of best practices," said Field. "There's a really great staff here, and people have worked really hard to do the best that they can do, and we're now able to really improve on all the things that the college has done."

In addition to the ERP-related work, the college is making technology improvements across the board, including ubiquitous wireless coverage, enterprise-wide document management and expanded virtualization, noted Field. It's also outsourcing help desk services to Ellucian. "Through our contract with Ellucian, we will now have access to 24/7/365 help desk services," said Field. "Ellucian uses a company called ServiceNow, and they will be our Tier 1 help desk. And that's because we are very understaffed in our current help desk here, and so this will really take away from the staff all of the easy, Tier 1, password-reset kinds of activities, and let us focus on the problems that really our people have to solve."

Ellucian is also providing six onsite staff members, including an enterprise applications director, to run Banner and associated applications, and to provide support to improve administrative operations. In addition, Ellucian Application Management Services will provide the college with day-to-day management of Banner, Banner Document Management and Banner Workflow and their associated operating systems and database environments.

The mood at City College is optimistic. "The college has made enormous progress since the commission made the decision to revoke accreditation. Confidence is rightfully very high that the commission is not going to close the college," said Field, who started in the CTO position only a little over a week ago. "I wouldn't have taken this job if I thought it was going to end."

About the Author

About the author: Rhea Kelly is executive editor for Campus Technology. She can be reached at rkelly@1105media.com.

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