California: More Accreditation Woes for Community Colleges

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California: More Accreditation Woes for Community Colleges
The chancellor of the California Community College System, Bryce Harris, recently stated more than 20 community colleges in the state were at risk of losing accreditation. In the midst of problems with City College of San Francisco, some are beginning to question the credibility of the accreditors.
City College of San Francisco is one of several campuses at risk of losing accreditation.

As City College of San Francisco fights to remain open after the current school year, others are beginning to question the validity of an accrediting agency threatening the very existence of vital California community colleges. Scrutiny and even lawsuits leave the accrediting agency vulnerable while other California schools struggle to realize their accreditation may be the next on the line. How will this growing problem eventually be resolved?

More California Schools Heading to the Chopping Block?

The chancellor of the California Community College System, Bryce Harris, recently stated in the San Francisco Business Times that the possible de-accreditation of City College of San Francisco might be just the tip of the iceberg. Harris told the Business Times that as many as 20 California schools could face accreditation challenges in the future. While Harris did not name specific school names in his warning, he admitted that City College's problems could plague many other schools in the state.

In July, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) announced it would pull City College’s accreditation at the end of the current academic year 2014. The commission cited several reasons for the decision, including a confusing governance structure and lack of financial accountability. Other factors that led to the action by the commission included support services, facilities, and teaching standards that were not compliant with the commission’s requirements in these areas.

As one solution to the problem, Harris has asked the state government for more funding for oversight of the schools. He told the Business Times that part of the issue is that there is not sufficient oversight currently to catch the potential problems before the accreditation commission uncovers them.

“If [the office] was adequately doing that monitoring job, and was staffed accordingly, problems would be noticed earlier,” Harris explained. “The way out is to get colleges in compliance and then set up a monitoring and control system.”

This video explains the need for accreditation.

Accreditation Commission Under the Gun

While Harris is working on the problem from his end, others are beginning to question the validity of an accrediting commission that willingly places so many state schools under the gun. From scathing letters criticizing the commission to a potential lawsuit, some school officials take matters into their own hands and go after what they see as the troublemaker in the mix. However, not everyone agrees with the idea of playing hardball with the accrediting commission, making the political mix within the community college systems much more complex.

According to a report in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has responded to the de-accreditation of City College by filing a lawsuit against the ACCJC. The case's primary purpose is to stop the de-accreditation of the school, but it includes plenty of criticism about the commission's workings. Herrera alleges in the lawsuit the commission unlawfully allowed political bias to influence their evaluation of City College’s accreditation standards.

“It is a matter of public record that the ACCJC has been an advocate to reshape the mission of California community colleges,” Herrera said at the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

A Coast Community College District trustee, where three California community colleges could face accreditation challenges, has asked the Department of Education to investigate the accrediting commission. According to the Daily Pilot, Trustee Jerry Patterson authored the letter, which requested an investigation into the warnings sent to Orange Coast College, Golden West College, and Coastline Community College. These Coast schools received warnings about changing specific practices or risk losing accreditation.

Despite Patterson’s conviction, not everyone on the board of trustees for the community college district agreed with his decision to send the letter. The board recently voted to send a second letter to the Department of Education, explaining that the original correspondence did not reflect the views of the entire board.

This video offers another take on how accreditation works.

City College Continues to Struggle Amid Conflicts

Throughout much of the drama plaguing the California community college system, City College struggles to find a way out of its accreditation woes. The Skyline View reports that amid an outflux of students from City College to neighboring community colleges, college officials in the area are trying to reassure students that the credits they earn at City College this year still count.

Michelle Haggar, the Program Services Coordinator for Skyline Community College, told the View that many students are under the impression City College will close. This leads them to other community colleges in the area, including Skyline. Now, those schools are beginning to feel the pressure of increased enrollment as students look beyond City College to complete their education.

The one player in the conflict that has remained largely silent about the state’s accreditation woes is the newly appointed Super Trustee of City College, Bob Agrella. Agrella’s job is to save City College from losing accreditation, and part of those responsibilities means playing nice with the accrediting commission throughout this turbulent school year.

“In fairness to the people taking these actions, they feel time is of the essence,” Agrella explained to the San Francisco Bay Guardian. “I just happen to, respectfully, disagree with it, because my job is not to push the [ACCJC]. My job is to try to regain accreditation.”

Time will tell whether Agrella’s efforts will succeed and whether other California colleges will find themselves in the same boat before the current school year ends.

Questions? Contact us on Facebook. @communitycollegereview

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