Three Rivers College earns praise in accreditation

Thursday, October 11, 2018

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. — Three Rivers College recently met a milestone that many institutions of higher education only strive to accomplish.

The college completed its accreditation review with the Higher Learning Commission meeting all criteria with no concerns, scoring a 100 percent for the first time in TRC’s history.

Regional accreditation validates the quality of an institution as a whole and evaluates multiple aspects of an institution, including its academic offerings, governance and administration, mission, finances and resources.

This recognition and accreditation assures students that work satisfactorily completed at Three Rivers will be recognized at full value by other colleges, universities and professional schools.

“Everybody here has been involved to make this work,” said Dr. Maribeth Payne, Dean of Institutional Effectiveness and accreditation liaison officer for TRC. “It has been a wonderful experience to be a part of and it has been life changing for the college.”

Payne added this win for the college shows all the initiatives in the strategic plan are working.

“This success from the regional accreditation even further confirms that, as well as all the hard work that has been done,” she said. “It’s not just words on paper, it’s actually happening.”

Payne added she, President Dr. Wesley Payne nor one person or group could take credit for this first time achievement for TRC.

This was a college-wide effort of everyone coming together, putting in countless hours and many wearing multiple hats, she said.

“It took everyone from maintenance to student services to the president’s office,” Payne said.

“We all had to come together to make this happen.”

Three Rivers College also has partnerships in place with the community, Payne said, and the college was able to demonstrate that through the Tinnin Fine Arts programming and several others.

“So when we say it was a huge effort, it really was,” she said.

Both Dr. Wesley and Maribeth Payne will be presenting on the college’s success at a conference this month.

“We are just so excited it’s hard to put it into words,” she said. “The presentation title is ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ because we can’t come up with any word for how excited we are about what just happened.”

The Higher Learning Commission’s review summary of the college stated, “Three Rivers College is a mature institution with stable financial, physical and human resources. In recent years the college has reorganized its internal structures and has identified new policies, processes and tools to serve plans for continued growth and improvement in the delivery of services and programs. New processes are serving the college well as it considers changes and improvements in operations, program offerings and services.

“With all that the college has experienced, learned and put in place as practice through its Assessment Academy affiliations, it is well-positioned to continue to evolve and mature in its assessment and program review processes. The college plans capably for expected growth and change and enjoys skilled faculty and staff who are responsive to the changing expectations and needs of its community.”

The accreditation chair, who has been on 54 visits with other colleges, told Dr. Wesley Payne she had never been on a review visit to an institution of higher education that was as well prepared as TRC.

During the accreditation review process, every 10 years a peer group of experts in their fields visit the college and monitor how the institution is meeting the criteria based on what defines a quality institution of higher education.

The five criteria sections include: mission; integrity; ethical and responsible conduct; teaching and learning -- quality, resources and support; teaching and learning -- evaluation and improvement; and resources, planning and institutional effectiveness.

Evidence in the college’s report, including over 1,000 documents, overwhelming showed those criteria were met without concerns.

Chief Academic Officer Dr. Justin Hoggard assisted in the writing of the report by collecting the numerous documents to create an argument for the core components and putting together the narrative along with a core group of individuals.

“I relied heavily on the department chairs, Mrs. Nicole Sifford, Dr. Staci Foster and Dr. Dan Lauder, as well as other direct report personnel such as the Director of the Library Ms. Kathy Sanders, the University Center Director Will Cooper, Executive Assistant for Instruction Mrs. Michelle Wooldridge, Director of ACHIEVE Todd Allen and Mrs. Edie Dilbeck, Executive Assistant to the Dean of Instruction,” he said.

This team effort, Hoggard added, was all a part of careful preparation and planning which paid off.

“I feel fortunate to work alongside so many people who care about our institution and continue to make Three Rivers and exceptional institution,” he said.

Not only did the Higher Learning Commission see the evidence, but student and employee surveys are bringing data to the departments with their approval as well.

“Our core values came out during the accreditation and surveys,” Payne said. “We asked the same questions in 2015 and now we are 20 to 30 percent higher in almost every category.”

From 69 percent in 2015, students rated customer service at an 82 percent satisfaction during fall 2017, Payne said.

Adjunct faculty are also turning in better reviews. When asked if they adequately receive support in their department to do their job effectively, the scores increased from 74 percent to now 96 percent.

The benchmark for student surveys of graduates is set at 90 percent or better. The TRC alumni are asked if the college met their educational needs, would they recommend TRC to others and would they choose TRC again.

Last graduation, surveys said nearly 96 percent of graduates would come back or recommend TRC to others, Payne said.

“We have pretty much moved the needle across the board in just about everything we have done,” she said.

The Higher Learning Commission not only reviewed the main campus during the accreditation process, but the external locations as well.

Director of the TRC Sikeston Center Missy Marshall explained to the group how the Sikeston, Dexter and Kennett locations operate.

“The review team wanted to see that we provide the same quality service to all TRC students no matter where they attend their Three Rivers College classes,” she said. “I was so excited to visit with the HLC reviewers and share with them all the ‘good work’ we do everyday at the college to support our students. I explained to them our goal is to help our students to be the best they can be and in turn the students help our region be the best it can be. I am proud to be part of the Three Rivers College team.”

Marshall added the college has consistently worked on continuous improvement based on the student survey data and performance measures.

“We continually look at what we do during the student’s time with us to see if we need to make adjustments,” she said. “I believe the Higher Learning Commission saw that we actually ‘walk the talk.’”

Dean of Student Services Ann Matthews helped guide the Student Services division with gathering evidence that shows how TRC helps students navigate college processes from admission to graduation.

She said good leadership through the process of working together as a team over the past nine years is what brought the college to where it is today.

“The achievement gives you a satisfying feeling that we are improving our student’s college experience,” she said.

Chief Financial Officer Charlotte Eubank praised the college’s teamwork and dedication for the no-concern accreditation accomplishment.

All areas of the college were focused on the goal at every level, she said, which took everyone working together for years to make this all come together.

“This is a significant accomplishment for the future of the college,” Eubank said. “I’m very proud to be part of such a dedicated group of professionals who make it possible for our community college to make a difference in the lives of our students every day.”

Now, halfway through the 2020 vision, Payne said starting next fall, the college will begin pulling data together and looking at TRC’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for the next five years.

“We are at the midpoint review and looking how do we get any better,” she said.

Director of Technology and Computer Services Steve Atwood recognizes while TRC has “made an ‘A’ on the test,” certain areas can still be focused on to be “mastered.”

The foundational pieces now in place is what Payne said needed to be done first to then improve in certain areas.

“This would not have happened without command emphasis and buy-in with overcoming all the resistance to change,” Atwood said. “There was real change across the whole foundation of the college.”

With everyone at TRC realizing the change was for the common good, Atwood said a no-concern accreditation is validation of all that was done was the right thing to do.

“This is our gold seal of approval,” Payne said.