We report on the latest developments with the largest community college in California, as the City College of San Francisco fights to keep its accreditation and its doors open to students.
San Francisco is in trouble, with a threat of accreditation loss looming and uncertainty over whether the school will even be able to remain open for much longer. According to many who have carefully examined the issues facing the college, the fault primarily lies with the school itself. From ineffective governance to mismanagement of funds, the City College of San Francisco is facing serious issues that could take Herculean efforts to overcome. Now, time is also running short for the school, as the accrediting commission has set a deadline in which the school must begin to show progress in improving their operations overall.
Implications of “Show Cause” Rating
The accreditation commission recently gave the City College of San Francisco a “show cause” rating, which means the school shoulders the burden of showing why it should remain accredited. This sanction is the most serious of the three options an accrediting commission can offer. The San Francisco Examiner reports that a “show cause” rating is typically only given when an institution is in “substantial non-compliance” with accreditation standards.
Only two California schools have received similar ratings currently, according to the Los Angeles Times. College of the Redwoods and Cuesta College both are working their way through accreditation violations, in hopes of maintaining their accreditation. Another California school, Compton College, actually saw its accreditation revoked after receiving the “show cause” rating from the accreditation commission.
Importance of Accreditation
Accreditation is a voluntary process, but it can be a vital one for community colleges today. In fact, it is highly recommended that students choose a community college that is accredited - and for many reasons. Without accreditation, schools are not eligible for any sort of financial aid funding, which significantly impacts the number of students who can attend the school. Students may also have great difficulty transferring credits from a non-accredited institution to another college or university. Students who wish to pursue graduate degrees will find that courses from a non-accredited institution cannot be applied to graduate programs.
If the City College of San Francisco were to lose its accreditation, it is likely the school would have to close its doors. The college is currently home to around 90,000 students – and 33,000 are considered full-time. The school is the biggest in the state of California and one of the biggest nationwide. If City College was forced to close, the implications of such an event on higher education in California would be devastating indeed.
What’s the Problem?
The accreditation commission cited 14 recommendations in its report to City College, which must be addressed by the school within a few short months to maintain their accreditation status. These 14 recommendations span a wealth of issues the school is currently facing, from loose and ineffective governance to gross mismanagement of funds. The commission also states that issues must be addressed sooner rather than later, giving the school just a few short months – until October 15 in fact – to show progress and improvement in its efforts.
One particular point of concern, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, is that City College has failed to bring expenditures in line with funding for a number of years. In fact, this problem was broached with the school in 2006, and no progress has been made by the school to “live within their means” since that time. The study by the commission states that the school “has been ineffective in developing and implementing a comprehensive budget planning system that addresses its lack of resources and declining budget.”
Inside Higher Ed reports that City College has lived above its income level for the past three years, dipping into reserves to cover operational costs. This has left the school’s reserves at a dangerously low level. The study states, “Without sufficient cash flow and reserves to maintain financial stability and realistic plans for the future, City College will be challenged to maintain financial solvency.”
Lopsided Governance Leads to Ineffective Leadership
The study also found that City College features a lopsided governance structure that favors faculty over administration. The community college currently spends more than 90 percent of its budget on faculty and support staff – a much higher amount than other community colleges. The school only has 39 administrators currently on staff, and the study found that these employees were overtaxed with responsibilities.
To compensate for the lower number of administrators, decision-making has been passed to faculty and staff in a sort of shared governance structure. Unfortunately, this model has led to ineffective leadership, with no self-examination available and slow reactions to events and situations. In fact, this slower reaction time has directly impacted the financial health of the school, since the current leadership structure was unable to address and adapt to reduced funding in recent years as efficiently as needed.
Despite Myriad of Problems, Optimism Reigns
Despite the scathing report and dire rating from the accreditation commission, the governing body of the City College of San Francisco has made it clear to students, faculty and the community that they have no intention of allowing the school to lose accreditation and close its doors. The San Francisco Examiner reports that the seven-member board for the school recently met to address the problems outlined in the report and find solutions that could be implemented prior to the October 15 deadline.
“We will not let that happen,” board member John Rizzo told the San Francisco Examiner is regards to the school’s possible loss of accreditation. “Everyone in this room, everyone in this community, will not let that happen.”
College administrators agree that they will do everything in their power to address problems and maintain accreditation status. We sincerely hope so, for the sake of their many students.