In its half century of existence, Essex County Community College has served as a reliable, affordable bridge to a four-year college or to the work force for thousands of students from Essex County, many poor and working class. But the college, which saw rapid expansion and a long period of stability has recently fallen into a chaotic spiral that finds it on the verge of losing its accreditation, leaving thousands of students out in the educational cold.
“On Nov. 20 of this year, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education communicated to Essex County College that they took action in regard to our accreditation standing,” explained Essex County College President Anthony Munroe. “The college remains accredited, but was placed on probation because we did not demonstrate compliance with standard three, institutional resources and standard four, leadership and governance.”
The problems predate Munroe, who’s been on the job just six months. But it’s quite a litany. Over the last two years, the president and the college’s attorney were fired., 21 employees were also fired, $150,000 was stolen from the athletic department, and a lack of financial oversight and infighting among administrators has brought morale to a new low.
It’s a soap opera, for sure, says Munroe, but not an existential crisis.
“Never did Middle States call the academic integrity and the teaching and learning into question,” he noted. “The issues are administrative issues.”
And the college is already dealing with that, he says. They’ve hired a consultant to deal with board development, a new chief financial officer to check and balance the books and a compliance officer to make sure the organizational infrastructure gets repaired. They’re also going to need some help, like dollars, from the county.
“We just gave them in this budget in 2017, $1.5 million for their budget, and starting in 2018 to 2019, I committed another $1.25 million,” said Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo.
DiVincenzo’s fingerprints are all over improvements at the county zoo and parks and on the county’s AA bond rating. But up until now, the county college has proven to be immune to his Midas touch.
“This is the third president that we have leading the institution, he just came on July 1. The prior two presidents just did not work out. The board selected both of those people and it didn’t work out, so we have to move forward,” said DiVincenzo. “You know, let’s don’t take the responsibility away from the president of the college.”
DiVincenzo has appointed seven new board members and Munroe says he welcomes the county executive’s input, within reason, that is with no strings attached.
The college has until March to report that it’s got its act together, after which Middle States reps will visit the college again and render a final decision by June.
Losing its accreditation would be more than just an embarrassment for Essex County College. It could prove to be a fatal blow to an institution that has served this community for 50 years, and a giant “F” on the transcript of everyone involved.