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 that is threatening the very existence of vital California community colleges. Scrutiny and even lawsuits are leaving the accrediting agency vulnerable, while other California schools struggle with the realization 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 at 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 be facing accreditation challenges in the not-so-distant future. While Harris did not name specific school names in his warning, he admitted the problems facing City College could plague many other schools in the state.
In July, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) announced it would be pulling City College’s accreditation at the end of the current academic year in 2014. The commission cited a number of reasons for the decision, including a confusing structure of governance 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 potential issues before they are uncovered by the accreditation commission.
“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.”
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 in the works, some school officials are taking matters in their own hands and going after what they see as the troublemaker in the mix. However, not everyone agrees with the idea of playing hardball with the accrediting commission, which is making the political mix within the community college systems that much more complex.
According to a report at 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 main purpose of the lawsuit is to stop the de-accreditation of the school, but includes plenty of criticism about the workings of the commission. 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 was recorded as saying at the San Francisco Bay Guardian.
A trustee of the Coast Community College District, 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. All of 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 were in agreement about his decision to send the letter. In fact, 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.
City College Continues to Struggle Amid Conflicts
Throughout much of the drama that is currently plaguing the California community college system, City College continues to struggle to find a way out of their own accreditation woes. The Skyline View reports that in the midst of 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 is going to close. This is leading 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 mean 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 be successful and whether other California colleges will find themselves in the same boat before the current school year is over.