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Wednesday churn: Westwood on probation

Updated 10 a.m.The Colorado Commission on Higher Education has placed Westwood College on probationary accreditation because the college is on probation with a national accreditation group.

While the Tuesday action doesn’t affect the for-profit college’s ability to enroll, teach and graduate students, some commissionners and Department of Education staffers felt that action necessary to inform students and potential students about the college. (See staff briefing paper.)

Westwood is a career, business and technical school with two campuses in Denver. In September its north campus was placed on probation by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.

That agency concluded Westwood needed to properly demonstrate student achievement, show that it has proper management and administrative procedures, provide its policy for handling complaints, comply with standards for student recruiting and demonstrate it has the administrative capacity and procedures to meet accreditation requirements.

State law allows the CCHE to put an institution on probation if it has been placed in that status by an accrediting agency. The agency reconsidered the Westwood case in November and decided to keep the institution on probation because it hadn’t provided adequate documentation on student achievement outcomes.

The CCHE delayed action on Westwood at both its Oct. 7 and Dec. 2 meetings because commissioners wanted to see what the accrediting commission would do. Mike Feeley, a lobbyist for Westwood, had urged the state delay until after the commission had acted.

For-profit colleges have been under congressional, regulator and media scrutiny for months because of problems with high-pressure student recruitment, low graduation rates, high levels of student loan defaults and other issues.

(See story about October CCHE discussion of Westwood.)

Higher education employees who are covered by the Public Employees’ Retirement Association could continue contributing a bigger chunk of their pay to the pension system, if legislators take up a recommendation by outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter.

This issue came up Tuesday during a Joint Budget Committee staff briefing on the state Department of Personnel and Administration’s 2011-12 budget. Earlier this year, legislators passed a law that increased employee pension contributions to 10.5 percent of salary, up from 8 percent. The state’s contribution was cut to 7.65 percent from 10.15 percent. Total contributions to the pension program were the same, but the move was made to help balance the state’s 2010-11 budget. (Both the state and employees also pay additional, “supplemental” contributions.)

The Ritter administration has proposed that the shift continue in 2011-12, but that will require legislative approval next year. The move would cover only the 57,000-some employees in PERA’s State Division, which includes 23,394 higher ed employees. Members of PERA’s Schools and DPS divisions, which include teachers, would not be affected.

Depending on what the legislature does, continuation of the policy also could affect overall state support of colleges and universities. This year, because federal stimulus rules required a minimum state level of higher ed support, colleges and universities got to keep the money that was saved by reduction of the employer pension contribution. Those federal rules don’t apply in 2011-12. So, if the legislature continues the lower employer contribution, the higher ed system could face a cut of $18 million.

(See pages 22-24 of the JBC staff briefing paper for details on this issue.)

Stand for Children, an education advocacy group, has announced a contest to recognize and reward outstanding teachers. Dubbed “Our Heroes,” the contest will award $1,000 each to up to 10 public school teachers. You can get more information and make nominations on Stand’s website. The effort is supported by the Daniels Fund. Winners will be chosen by a panel including current and former teachers and announced Jan. 17.

What’s on tap:

The Average Daily Membership Advisory Committee holds its second meeting from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Colorado Association of S chool Boards, 1200 Grant St. (more information about meeting and background story).

The Adams 12 Five Star school board convenes at 7 p.m. in the Aspen Room of the Educational Services Center, 1500 E. 128th Ave. in Thornton. The board’s agenda includes a public hearing on a disputed site development plan from Prospect Ridge Academy charter school. The school’s charter was initially denied by the Adams 12 board but that denial was later overruled by the State Board of Education. Tonight, Broomfield city officials will present their concerns about the charter site, followed by a presentation from charter officials and public comment.

Good reads from elsewhere:

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