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DACC seeks independent accreditation

Faculty, staff and administrators at New Mexico State University Dona Ana Community College are working toward taking a giant step as an institution - independent accreditation.

"Being independently accredited is not the same as being independent," said Fred Lillibridge, campus institutional effectiveness and planning officer at NMSU DACC. "It just means we'll be evaluated on our own and compared to other community colleges."

When colleges and universities are accredited, their classes and degrees are recognized by an outside organization as meeting certain standards. An accreditation team from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools will visit DACC in late April 2008.

Currently, DACC and NMSU Grants are accredited through NMSU's main campus, but NMSU Alamogordo and NMSU Carlsbad have been independently accredited for years.

When DACC was founded 33 years ago, it had just 200 students who met in a single building. Today, DACC has more than 7,000 students enrolled in campuses throughout Dona Ana County. It's NMSU's largest branch college and the second largest community college in the state.

"For more than three decades now, the community college has benefited from its relationship with NMSU during the accreditation process," said DACC Campus Executive Officer Margie Huerta. "Now, the community college is being tested to see if it can stand on its own merits. We are confident that DACC is up to the challenge."

Anna Chieffo, DACC associate academic officer, believes having a separate accreditation process will allow the college to better illustrate the value of its classes and other programs.

"We've been working toward this for a while now," said Chieffo. A team of more than 40 faculty members, officers and staff from DACC meet regularly about the process. Members of the DACC committee also serve on the NMSU accreditation committee and subcommittees.

"We have a lot of faith in the people we have here and what we are doing. We help and serve this community in a lot of ways," said Lillibridge, who admits independent accreditation means more work for everyone involved.

"It's worth it," said Chieffo, who believes the process has already made the college better. "This forces us to do our own self-study. This provides us an incentive to work with different departments and see where we are strong and where we need to improve."

The last accreditation with the main campus led to more classes being offered at DACC. Both hope this accreditation cycle will take the college even further.

Justin Bannister
Dec. 18, 2006