In other news outside the Twin Cities:

The Theater Department at Normandale Community College recently earned official accreditation from the National Association of Theatre Schools. This makes them only the seventh two-year program in the country, and the only community college in Minnesota, to reach this standard. Accreditation actually puts Normandale Community College in the company of schools like the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and St. Olaf College.

This is important because two-year colleges are often places where students who don’t have enough money to go directly to a four year college, regardless of their talent and intelligence, start earning a higher degree – because its cheaper. I’ve taught at colleges around the country for more than ten years. Community colleges do the work of the angels.

What does this accreditation mean? Put simply – Normandale Community College has a shockingly good theater program with facilities, classroom technology, and library stuff that meets or exceed the same standards of four year colleges and universities – and that certainly exceeds the expectations most people have of two-year colleges. Though it is not necessary to be accredited to have a good training program – excellent programs at both Minnesota State University Mankato and University of Minnesota Duluth have not bothered to get accredited – it says even more of a two-year college to have navigated the requirements of NAST (which is the organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for accrediting all theater curriculum).

According to current Department Chair Sean Byrd, allowances are, of course, made for the fact that it’s a two year college, but the accreditation certifies that “we have a curriculum that is equivalent to what a student would be getting in their first two years at a four year university.” The accreditation also makes transferring to larger schools easier.

It’s worth noting that in order for the Theater Department to pass this process, the upper-level (non-theater) administration at Normandale had to mean it. They must really support the arts at Normandale. And, in fact, the music department has already been accredited and the visual arts department is in the midst of the process. Trust me – three accredited fine arts programs at a community college is not typical and not easy.

Sometimes, it seems like every direction we turn around Greater Minnesota, we see actual commitments to the value of high-quality arts, even from non-artists. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but I still am sometimes.