Dr. Carolane Williams holds nothing back when discussing the struggles Baltimore City Community College has faced under her command in the past year.
Never doubting for a second that the college would overcome a brutal probation period, now lifted, Williams says it was never an option to move anywhere but forward.
“It’s a high note,” said BCCC president Williams, when asked how she felt about coming out of the struggle. “It's definitely not good for any institution to be put on probation, but while we were on probation we were still moving forward.”
Signs of trouble first began when BCCC was placed on probation in June 2011 by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), jeopardizing the college’s ability to hand out degrees and certificates officially recognized by other institutions, agencies, and employers.
The school, which is 84 percent African American, came under fire after being told they had no system in place to sufficiently monitor the progress of the student body as they completed coursework and programs over time.
Williams said that while there were always measures in place to project and examine student advancement, there was no uniform system in place.
“The faculty pulled together and they worked very hard to create a process to document the learning outcomes for students, courses, and programs,” said Williams in an interview with the AFRO. “Now we have that for each program and our courses. We have clearly defined what we want them to learn and then we measure if they learned it…If students are not learning to the degree that we want, the faculty has to adjust what they're doing so that we can increase learning.”
The school began to quickly implement the new regulations to accurately judge how well students were retaining information and matriculating through courses. Mandatory advisement for students was put into place, curriculums were rewritten and some programs were cut. Others, like developmental education, were streamlined, Williams said.
Then, in the midst all the changes, came the news that college faculty had lost confidence in their leader of six years. Faculty said that Williams was not communicating about the changes and making too many decisions with no input from them or the student body. Still, Williams says she had faith, and not only expected the vote, but saw it as a natural “human reaction” to the drastic changes that she was making.
Eventually faculty came around to see the benefits of the changes that had to happen “not ‘one day,’ but immediately,” she said.
Chima O. Ugah, current interim associate dean of business and technology, led the faculty senate as president during the probation period and when Williams was given the vote of no confidence. The 18-year BCCC veteran agrees that both actions were stepping stones on the path to success for the college.
“Adjustments in communication have drastically improved and that makes a big difference,” said Ugah. “It’s like night and day in reference to the transformations that have taken place in the classroom. Everything happening around us now is on the positive end.”
Word that the probation period was lifted began to circulate last month along with reports of the many improvements the college has made in the past two years. According to information released by the college, the graduation rate has increased 28 percent since 2010.
The institution has also seen the number of students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) rise 13 percent. The same trend has been seen in the business and continuing education departments, which have seen a five percent increase in enrollment.
BCCC has also recently acquired new property directly adjacent to its main campus at 2901 Liberty Heights Ave., which will house a new cyber security program.
“It's going to expand our mission of opportunity,” said Williams. “Our basic mission is to give people choices and even without the financial resources. Few minorities go into STEM fields, but yet, there are lots of jobs there.”
Graduates said they are more pleased with the outcomes of their time at BCCC, as 98.7 percent of the student population reported being satisfied with the academic heights they were able to achieve, according to information released by BCCC.
“The decision by the Middle States Commission to lift the college’s probation is a testament to the hard work and diligence of BCCC faculty and staff,” Dr. Gary D. Rodwell, chair of the BCCC Board of Trustees, said in a statement. “It reflects our commitment to rigorous and ongoing improvement. United in purpose and mission, we made difficult but necessary decisions and look forward to continuing our legacy of outstanding service to Baltimore City and its residents.”
BCCC was founded in 1947 as Baltimore Junior College. It was first accredited in 1963 and was reaccredited in 2008. The next review will take place in 2019.