Accrediting commission threatened with possible withdrawal of federal recognition

City College of San Francisco is fighting for its accreditation.In an unexpected turn of events, the U.S. Department of Education is threatening to “limit, suspend or terminate” federal recognition of the accrediting commission that has threatened to shut down City College of San Francisco next July.

In a six-page letter to Barbara Beno, president of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), the Department of Education said that the commission needed to take “immediate action” to correct four areas of non-compliance with federal regulations. The letter came in response to a 275-page complaint filed by the California Federation of Teachers over how the commission handled the accreditation review of City College. The Commission has ordered City College, which with 85,000 part- or full-time students is the largest in the state, closed unless it responds more fully to a series of concerns. The California Federation of Teachers represents the faculty and other staff at City College.

In its response to the complaint, federal officials found that several aspects of the commission’s accreditation review process did not meet the U.S. Secretary of Education’s criteria for providing recognition to an accrediting commission. “We have determined that in order to avoid initiation of an action to limit, suspend or terminate ACCJC’s recognition, ACCJC must take immediate steps to correct the areas of non-compliance identified in this letter,” the letter signed by Kay Gilcher, director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Accreditation Group, concluded.

The federal response reflects the extraordinarily complex relationship between federal oversight of the accreditation process to ensure that billions of dollars in student loan dollars are spent at colleges that provide students with a quality education and pressures on accreditors to keep colleges open despite shortcomings that they may identify in their accreditation reviews.

Federal concerns about the accreditation review of City College includes the assertions that in violation of federal requirements only one faculty member was on two evaluation teams of 8 and 16 members, that the commission “created the appearance to the public of creating a conflict of interest” by having Beno’s husband be on one of the evaluation teams, and that it had failed to provide a “detailed written report that clearly identifies any deficiencies in the institution’s compliance” with the commission’s standards.

The allegations prompted Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the parent organization of the union that filed the complaint, to call on the commission to abandon its recommendation to strip the college of its accreditation and to institute a new review “under proper procedures that ensure good faith and fairness to all interested parties.”

City College is easily the largest college to face closure as a result an accreditation review in California. In fact, it is the largest college in the state, and one of the largest in the nation.

In a statement published on its website, the commission said it was “disappointed” with the findings, and that it would make “necessary changes to appropriately address the Department’s concerns.” However, it took issue with the assertion that only one academic was represented on the evaluation team, and also said that it appeared that in another area the federal government was imposing new requirements.

The U.S. Department of Education recognizes a range of accrediting commissions across the nation. Every five years accrediting commissions must apply for renewal of their federal recognition. In 2007, when its federal recognition came up for renewal, the ACCJC was found to be “non-compliant” with federal standards, essentially for not being tough enough on colleges not meeting its standards for accreditation.

The commission said that it would respond to the latest federal concerns as part of its upcoming recognition review scheduled for December of this year.

Going deeper

Read the U.S. Department of Education’s letter to the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges here, and the commission’s response here

For background reports on federal pressures on accrediting commissions, see EdSource reports here and here






Filed under: Community Colleges


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3 Responses to “Accrediting commission threatened with possible withdrawal of federal recognition”

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  1. Gerald Patnode on Aug 20, 2013 at 4:57 am08/20/2013 4:57 am

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    There is another lesson for the accreditation agency. You don’t screw with Nancy Polosi’s congressional district and not expect a phone call to the Secretary of Education

  2. Chris on Aug 15, 2013 at 4:05 pm08/15/2013 4:05 pm

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    This determination by the Federal Government confirms a long standing concern that ACCJC must be reorganized. Many faculty members and governing board members see ACCJC as a tool of community college chief executives, many of whom use “Accreditation” as a method to usurp the authority of others involved in Participatory Governance for community colleges. The fact that only one faculty member was on the site visit team for Community College San Francisco is indicative of the problems in ACCJC’s approach. I can only hope that outside parties will continue to review this matter, and hopefully, can root out the corruption and abuses of power that entities like ACCJC were established to address in the first place.

    How many community colleges are on Warning now, or are facing other severe sanctions because of a too cozy relationship between Dr. Beno, ACCJC leadership, and the CEOs that dominate site visit teams that compromises the peer review approach to Accreditation.

  3. Magpie on Aug 15, 2013 at 6:23 am08/15/2013 6:23 am

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    The extent of the commission’s sloppiness and mismanagement goes far beyond the four points focused on here. This is just a peek inside that can of worms.

    One big issue that is not touched on in this article is the confusion over the use of the word “recommendations.” See DoED letter, top of page 4 re: the “difficulty to ascertain what a recommendation represents – an area of noncompliance or an area for improvement.” From one report to another and from one visit to another, the same “recommendation” given to a college can be interpreted one way or the other by different teams. So many colleges are’t sure exactly what is required of them, even when clarification is requested!

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