SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP/BCN) — The agency that certifies two-year colleges in the western United States told City College of San Francisco on Wednesday that the school will lose its accreditation a year from now, a move that could lead to the closure of one of the nation’s largest institutions of higher learning.
California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris said the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) notified City College officials of its verdict in a letter that did not give an explanation for the decision. But ACCJC chair Sherrill Amador released a statement that read: “While many college personnel have worked hard to correct deficiencies, CCSF would need more time and more cohesive institutional-wide effort to fully comply with accreditation requirements.”
The embattled public college, which enrolls 85,000 full- and part-time students on nine campuses and two centers, was placed last year on the commission’s “show-cause” list, the agency’s most severe disciplinary sanction. The commission had faulted the school for deficiencies in 14 areas, including financial management, library services, student achievement monitoring and planning, and ordered officials to demonstrate improvement by mid-March.
At its semi-annual meeting last month, the ACCJC determined that City College had fully addressed just two of the 14 recommendations made by the commission.
Harris said Wednesday’s development was serious and as a result, he was asking state officials to appoint a special trustee with authority to make decisions that now fall to the school’s Board of Trustees because “the college does not have the luxury of time and a special trustee offers the only hope… until (City College) is back on its feet.”
Accreditation is seal of approval education institutions receive so consumers and government officials know they are meeting certain performance standards. Not being accredited would make City College ineligible for federal and state funding and its students ineligible for public financial aid.
But Harris sought to reassure students who are already enrolled or plan to attend the college in the fall that they are not at risk of losing credits or having nowhere to continue their educations.
The revocation of City College’s accreditation would not take effect until July 31, 2014, and the school can still seek a review and then an appeal of the action. During the appeal process, City College would stay open and remain accredited, all units would be transferable and eligible students would continue to receive financial aid, according to the commission.
“We will be filing a request for review and will do everything in our power to have this decision reversed,” City College interim Chancellor Thelma Scott-Skillman vowed. “We are disappointed in the commission’s decision.”
The commission’s determination Wednesday also came as a shock to state and local officials who had hoped the steps college leaders had already taken to address the concerns would secure a reprieve.
“I am furious, and I think this decision is absolutely outrageous,” Rafael Mandelman, a member of the college’s elected Board of Trustees, said. “Every person and every part of this school have done backflips to address issues the ACCJC raised. At the end of all of this, to reach this result, is mind-boggling.”
California Federation of Teachers President Josh Pechthalt, whose union represents community college faculty and staff, characterized the commission’s decision as petty and mean-spirited. He said his organization planned to file a grievance against the accrediting commission with the U.S. Department of Education, which authorizes regional accrediting bodies.
Court action is another possibility, he said, arguing that there are no fair procedures for appealing sanctions from the commission and that the commission does not allow adequate time for schools to respond to the sanctions.
“This decision by the accrediting commission is an assault on this stellar academic institution,” Pechthalt said. “The commission acts as judge, jury and executioner on community colleges in California and the western states and continues to thumb their noses to individuals or organizations willing to question their behavior.”
Alisa Messer, president of the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, City College’s faculty union, called the ACCJC’s decision “shocking for the whole City College community” and said it would have “a terrible effect” on the school.
“We’ve seen an exodus,” Messer said, noting that student enrollment has dropped sharply and many teachers and other staff began looking for other jobs following the sanctions last year. “It’s been a demoralizing experience.”
While other community colleges have struggled in recent years to cope with severe reductions in state funding, the commission said in a report on City College last year that officials had failed to make the course and salary reductions necessary to keep the school on firm footing.
That is why Harris said he now believed “the best course of action to rescue City College from certain closure is to appoint a trustee with extra powers… in order for this college to match up its expenses with its revenue streams.”
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said he supported the appointment of a special trustee “to expedite reforms that are needed for the college to continue.” While “deeply disappointed” at the commission’s decision, Lee said it was clear that “a bold plan of action is needed to rescue City College.”
Mandelman said the special trustee move “essentially is putting the school in a kind of receivership” and comes at “the price of the loss of local control.” It seems “the ACCJC is fundamentally hostile to local elected governing boards,” he added.
(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco, the Associated Press and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)