Community colleges in California are struggling, and at this point, it’s anybody’s guess how the problems with higher education in the state will eventually shake out. While much of the focus on California community colleges of late has centered on San Francisco City College's accreditation threats, this isn’t the only school getting low marks by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. Many of the two-year schools around the state appear to be in trouble, although some are currently in hotter water than others. Can these schools, which are so vital to the student population and the employment outlook of the state, pull themselves out of the holes they are slowly sinking into?
Accreditation Sanctions Running Rampant
According to a report at the Sacramento Bee, numerous California community colleges across the state are in trouble with the accreditation commission. Three of these schools, including San Francisco City College, are facing the most severe “show cause” sanctions. In addition, 10 campuses have been placed on “probation” status and another 14 have received “warning” status. All of the schools have been given specific guidelines they must follow if they want to improve their status by the next accreditation evaluation; however, the three schools in the direst circumstances also have the most work to do.
“The problems colleges have run into with accreditation are abnormally acute at this point in time in California,” David Baime, senior vice president with the American Association of Community Colleges, told the Sacramento Bee. “The colleges in California have been subject to such savage budget reductions that it has placed institutions under a great deal of financial and administrative strain. I think that’s a big part of the issue for the colleges.”
This video reports on the accreditation status for City College of San Francisco.
Why Accreditation is Important
Schools that are in the biggest trouble in the state face the possibility of losing their accreditation. This could be a game-changer for those community colleges since accreditation is crucial to a successful school. According to the Modesto Bee, accreditation is necessary if schools are to receive federal funding and financial aid. Only accredited schools can participate in collegiate athletics programs and award diplomas to students.
Accreditation is also a requirement if credits are to transfer from one school to the next – a common practice for community college students who might begin their college career at a community college with the intent of transferring to a four-year school when their community college experience is over. Schools that lose accreditation often can no longer attract enough students to remain in business. Many of these schools have to close their doors entirely, once the accreditation status is gone.
The Money Problem
The primary reason many California schools are struggling with accreditation may well be financial. The Fresno Bee reports that within the past four years alone, California community colleges have faced cuts of more than $800 million in state support, which is about 12 percent of their total funding. To accommodate the reductions, schools have had to cut financial corners in numerous areas, from reducing course offerings to laying off staff. Many have had to borrow money to stay afloat, which has contributed to their financial instability in the long run.
In addition, community colleges across the country have faced an unprecedented influx of students in recent years. As schools grapple to deal with larger student populations, they find themselves more and more cash-strapped. Recent high school graduates are turning to community colleges as a more affordable option over four-year schools. Displaced workers are heading to community college campuses to receive additional job training or forge a new path for themselves in a leaner workforce.
Finally, community colleges are buckling under the weight of new guidelines by the federal government that require schools to more carefully track student outcomes and find ways to improve student retention. The accreditation commission also tightened its standards in 2002, giving colleges a full decade to bring their schools into alignment with the new requirements. However, those new requirements have been a tough bill for schools to meet, especially in light of the reduced funding and increased student populations.
“The standards went from 10 to four, but those four new standards are a lot more work than the 10 ever were,” Joan Smith, chancellor of Yosemite Community College District, told the Modesto Bee. Smith explained that each of those four standards contained 150 more standards schools are now required to meet, including tracking student progress and producing sound planning policies.
This video reports on the uncertain future of the City College of San Francisco.
Who’s in Deepest?
The three schools in the most trouble in California include San Francisco City College, the College of the Redwoods (Eureka) and Cuesta College (San Luis Obispo). According to Inside Higher Ed, these three schools must fix their accreditation problems in a timely fashion or risk being shut down completely. However, the publication asserts that a more likely scenario would probably be the takeover of another college in the area or the appointment of a special trustee to take over the operations of the schools. Even so, the news is bad for these three schools, which have been immersed in a struggle for survival for some time.
This video gives an overview of Cuesta College.
San Francisco City College was cited by the commission for deficit spending and the inability to adapt to the necessary changing environment facing community colleges today. The commission called out College of the Redwoods for insufficient storage of student records and a lack of documentation of student outcomes. Cuesta College was noted for its lack of planning and financial instability. All three of these institutions will need to show significant improvement throughout the next few months to keep their accreditation status – and their doors wide open to their students.
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