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S.F. City College Fighting for its Existence

Accreditor votes to shut down San Francisco's community college in 1 year

City College of San Francisco will lose its accreditation in one year and be shut down, its regional accreditor announced last week, unless the college can prevail in a review or appeal process with the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

The two-year college, which enrolls 85,000 students, would be the largest institution ever to lose its accreditation. Without regional accreditation it would no longer receive state funding and would certainly close its doors. Students who attend an unaccredited institution are ineligible to receive federal or state financial aid, and their diplomas often mean little to employers.

The closing of City College will cause great pain to all those who rely on its preparatory education model for four-year colleges in California and those who look to it to gain marketable skills that might create a vocational path to success.

One year ago the commission, part of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, issued a “show cause” sanction on City College for a wide range of identified problems, including dangerous budget deficits, a balky governance system and a failure to track student outcomes.

A follow-up report from a state agency reinforced concerns about the two-year college’s fiscal health, including that it only had enough cash reserves on hand to cover three days of operation.

The college "fully addressed" only two of 14 identified problem areas, the commission said after its review. The key remaining obstacles are a "lack of financial accountability" and deficiencies in leadership and governance.

Officials with the commission and the state’s community college system stressed that the decision is not final. In addition to having a year to prove that it has righted itself to the accreditor, City College could also be saved by state government.

"State intervention is going to be absolutely necessary," said Edwin M. Lee, San Francisco’s mayor, in a conference call with reporters.

City College's 11 campuses and sites will remain open and accredited for the next year. It is currently registering students for the fall semester, said Thelma Skott-Skillman, the college’s interim chancellor.

The college, which employs about 2,700 faculty members and staff, will be managed by a special trustee who the system will appoint.

Student and faculty activists, many organized into the Save City College Coalition, reacted with outrage.

"This announcement clearly shows that the (accrediting commission) is an out-of-control, rogue institution that must be stopped by the (U.S.) Department of Education," said Wendy Kaufman, an engineering instructor and coalition leader.

Student trustee Shanell Williams, also a coalition leader, called on politicians to "step in immediately to reverse this outrageous announcement."

The coalition has backed a complaint filed recently by the California Federation of Teachers with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that the commission has overstepped its authority in sanctioning City College.

The college's predicament did not go unnoticed in Washington, where Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, called it "regrettable - and absolutely necessary."

"An institution that does not meet accreditation standards cheats its students and its community," Broad said in a statement.

If City College loses its accreditation, it would become only the second public community college in California to do so. The first, Compton College in Los Angeles County, saw its accreditation revoked in 2006 and was absorbed into a neighboring community college district.

As a professor in a California State four-year institution I understand how critical the community college system is to provide us with transfer students after they have completed their first two years of colleges. The closing of City College would have ripple effects up and down the California State University (CSU) system. Let’s hope cooler heads prevail and the politicians, accrediting agency, and City College officials can figure out a way to keep the college open if it can show meaningful progress in one year towards addressing the deficiencies noted in the report.

Closing City College can be avoided. My suggestion is for the CSU to appoint a group of people with accrediting experience to work closely with officials at City College to address needed changes and develop the systems that will meet accrediting standards and provide the best possible education for aspiring four-year college students and those looking to get a jump start into their chosen careers.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on July 10, 2013