“It was a Friday morning (June 21). I was at the house. I’d had been on the phone with some other folks who were at work. The phone rings and this voice says ‘Bea? It’s Barry.’”
“It took me a second to realize who was calling.”
Barry was Dr. Barry Goldstein, the SACS vice president who oversees CBC.
“By the time it clicked who he was, he already was telling me that the commission had reaffirmed CBC’s accreditation.
“Well,” Dr. Espinoza replied, “that’s good news!”
Sitting in her office Monday, she was having a difficult time curbing her enthusiasm.
“How long do you wait before you burst?” she asked, and laughed, explaining that the college has not issued a news release until it receives the word from SACs in writing.
“I felt confident after I sent it in,” she says.
“It” was 1,590 pages of documentation — Espinoza wrote most of it.
“Part of the confidence came from seeing exactly how far we had drilled into the information we had and how we represented it. By the time I got to the final stage, I felt confident in knowing we had done our very best to showcase the college.”
The SACS committee had pointed out several areas of concern, including institutional effectiveness — which is planning — “which aligns with the budget. We were pretty much upside down in our finances.”
Espinoza discovered in the first months of her presidency that CBC’s financial reserves for paying off its debt service were depleted from $1.5 million to a mere $4,000. Concurrently, the facility’s documentation required by SACS for accreditation was years behind. Enrollment was dropping, as was federal funding.
“I had a six-month window to start to correct things,” she says. “Between a December 2012 audit report, I had to start looking for ways to cut costs.”
That included contracts not being renewed.
“That caused a lot of grief for the college,” she admits. Grievance hearings before the board — some of them public — still are underway.
“But, it was because we were that far off in our management of financial resources,” Espinoza says. “We took the right steps to keep the college solvent and healthy as a respectable entity in higher education. That is so critical for the community. I know it was painful. It brought some pains to the college as a whole, but it wasn’t without reason.”
The reaffirmation, she says, declares that SACS believes CBC is going in the right direction.
“Most experienced presidents do not have issues like this except maybe once in their tenure. I had multiple ones in year one. But, I have no regrets. It’s the job I took on.
“If I had been aware of all this, I would have taken an all-new approach. This definitely wore me (out), not because I didn’t have confidence to get past it, but because of the magnitude of the issues we were dealing with.”
With the news from Goldstein, Espinoza says the only direction for the college is forward.
The benefits from the SACS reaffirmation are twofold, she says.
“First, there is no bump in the road for students. They have no worries whatsoever. Their credits count the same and financial aid access is the same.
“That, and saving face in the community and people recognizing the excellence that’s provided at their local community college.”
Next on the agenda?
“We will have two celebrations to recognize all the hard work by the staff and faculty,” she says. The first is a picnic next Wednesday at noon; the second in the fall when the faculty returns.
Espinoza plans to take a few days off to go to Disney World with her family.
“I’m going to keep doing the ‘Snoopy dance’ for a while.”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.