Commission votes to revoke City College of San Francisco accreditation

Photo from Flickr

A regional accrediting agency voted to rescind City College of San Francisco’s accreditation in a year; the campus can appeal the decision. Photo of City College’s Mission District campus from Flickr.

City College of San Francisco, the largest community college in the state and one of the largest in the nation, will have its accreditation terminated in a year for failing to correct a series of financial, management and governance problems, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges announced Wednesday.

The commission’s vote calls for the college’s accreditation to be revoked July 31, 2014. Termination is not yet final, however, the commission said. Statewide Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris said City College can and will request a review of the ruling by July 31, and will also appeal the decision. If the campus loses accreditation, students would no longer be able to receive state and federal financial aid.

Harris said he was disappointed that the commission did not find the progress that City College of San Francisco has made so far went far enough to bring it into compliance. “My office is going to do everything in its power to see that City College retains its accreditation,” Harris said during a conference call with reporters addressing the commission’s decision.

City College, with 85,000 students, would be the largest college in California to lose accreditation, but not the first. Compton Community College previously lost accreditation and was taken over by another campus. The action against the San Francisco campus was one of several announced Wednesday by the regional accrediting commission.

During the review and appeal process, City College will retain its accreditation.

“We are open for business and we are registering students for the fall semester,” interim college Chancellor Thelma Scott-Skillman said on the conference call.

City College is in the process of searching for a permanent chancellor and Harris said that search will continue and is even more important in light of the commission’s action. More immediately, Harris said he will ask the community college Board of Governors to approve a special trustee with extraordinary authority to run the school; the board will consider the appointment at its meeting next week. That person would assume all the powers of the Board of Trustees, which will “continue to exist, but on the sidelines,” Harris said.

With the exception of nullifying collective bargaining agreements, the special trustee would be able to negotiate contracts, reduce courses and close some of City College’s centers throughout San Francisco.

brice harris

California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris

“This will put the recovery process in a much higher gear and move much faster,” said Harris, noting that there is only one year remaining to save the college.

In a statement on its web site, the commission said the college had addressed just two of the 14 recommendations for areas of improvement since the campus was placed on a “show cause” status in July of 2012 to prove why it should keep its accreditation. “The commission cited the lack of financial accountability as well as institutional deficiencies in the area of leadership and governance as the main obstacles to the college’s turnaround,” the statement said. City College is “significantly out of compliance” in many areas, the commission said, including “standards for instructional programs, student support services, library and learning support services and facilities.”

The California Federation of Teachers, which represents the faculty at City College, said it will consider legal action along with the appeal, calling it fundamentally unfair and alleging that the college has made significant progress toward resolving the accreditation issues.

“The commission acts as judge, jury and executioner on community colleges in California and the western states with little regard or concern for their behavior,” said federation President Josh Pechthalt.

Alisa Messer, president of the City College chapter of the union, said it was a shocking decision that will harm the school. Messer said the process of working to repair the issues raised by the commission in its “show cause” action has already created a morale vacuum.

“We’ve seen an exodus of faculty and of administrators and staff as people have looked for jobs elsewhere,” Messer said. “This has been a demoralizing experience, it has been a challenging experience, and despite everyone’s dedication to see the college through, it has tried everyone and has pushed many people to the limit. We’ve lost some very good people.”

Some students are worried how the decision will affect their future.

“I am completely outraged,” said Shanell Williams, a newly elected student trustee on the Board of Trustees of CCSF and a member of the Coalition to Save City College, an advocacy group of community members, faculty, staff, administrators and students. “We have done everything that this interim administration asked us to do. … Now they have set us up to fail.” 

Williams, an urban studies major, is planning to complete one more year at City College and then apply to transfer to a four-year university. “Maybe it will be OK for me but it’s not OK for other folks,” she said. “This is going to affect the lowest income students.”

The commission’s vote to terminate City College’s accreditation was only one of several other actions taken at its June 5-7 meeting in Burlingame, but just announced Wednesday.

It imposed sanctions on several other colleges, including placing Hartnell College in Salinas on probation, and issuing a “warning” to Coastline Community College in Fountain Valley near Huntington Beach, Imperial Valley College in Imperial, Los Angeles Mission College, Los Angeles Valley College and Orange Coast College.

Placing a college on probation means it has “deviated significantly” from the commission’s accreditation standards. A warning means that a college has “deviated” from those standards.

However, the news was far more favorable for several other colleges. The commission removed the “warning” label issued to Berkeley City College, College of Alameda, Merritt College and Laney College in Oakland, Merced College, West Los Angeles College and Los Angeles Southwest College. It also removed Los Angeles Harbor College from probation.

EdSource Today senior reporter Jane Meredith Adams and Executive Director Louis Freedberg contributed to this report.



Filed under: Community Colleges



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11 Responses to “Commission votes to revoke City College of San Francisco accreditation”

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  1. Bruce on Jul 5, 2013 at 9:37 pm07/5/2013 9:37 pm

    • 000

    It’s not possible to understand what is going on at CCSF without looking at the broader picture of neo-liberal, i.e.. privatization policies in education across in this country and really across the world. I urge those who want to get a grasp on that to do some investigation. I’ve been reading a book with some good information on that called “The Global Assault on Teaching, Teachers and their Unions edited by Mary Compton and Lois Weiner. There are, of course, many other works of book length and shorter that are examining this issue.
    As to the situation of CCSF it’s important to understand one fundamental issue, which in my opinion, has been purposely muddled up by the media in order to foster confusion. The issues purportedly facing CCSF, financial and otherwise, far from being at the center of the “accreditation crisis” are irrelevant to the goals being pursued by the ACCJC and those who are consciously allying with them.
    What then is their purpose, their “agenda”? Look back a year and a half to the Student Success Taskforce, a major blueprint for restructuring California’s community college system. Curiously, mention of the Task Force, a major, central plan rolled out with great fanfare, is completely absent from discussion by personages such as the current system chancellor Brice Harris. Why would that be? Because, in fact, the ACCJC, far from seeking to correct colleges with their internal problems to be more effective educational institutions (and, in fact, educational quality is totally absent in the ACCJC vocabulary) is seeking to impose the Taskforce vision of a reformed community college system — pared down colleges serving the more privileged students who have the means to go through college in two years, or perhaps slightly more, and go on to university. Absent from this re-envisioned system are the large numbers of poor and working class students, single moms and dads, older adults seeking to retain social involvement, and so on.

    It is hardly a secret that many faculty and students at CCSF were among the earliest and most vocal critics of this neo-liberal vision of education proposed by the “Student Success” proponents. And it was not long after the criticism of Student Success emerged that the S.F. Chronicle began rolling out its PR salvos condemning the college for spending too much on teachers and retaining programs when it should have capitulated to pressures from Sacramento to downsize.

    There are many indications that the ACCJC is an organization carrying out an agenda quite different from the one it purports to. One of them is that it has used its influence to change the colleges mission statement which for many years included “life long learning”. What is the significance of forcing such a change? And why did the ACCJC use its influence to bring about such a change when they were purported concerned with such issues as “financial mismanagement”.

    The ACCJC has forced the college to take on a rogue administration that is arguably the worst administration in its history. It’s misdeeds would take up a considerable article in itself. What I can say is, that sabotage of the college by the current administration is not too harsh a term in describing its behavior.

    And to be clear, the statement by Brice Harris about saving the college is pure demagoguery. He’s the “good cop” to the ACCJC’s bad cop. But he spills the beans when he says in talking about imposing a special trustee:

    “With the exception of nullifying collective bargaining agreements, the special trustee would be able to negotiate contracts, reduce courses and close some of City College’s centers throughout San Francisco”. Reduce courses and close City College’s centers — this is revealing language in a number of ways. First, the program of the Student Success taskforce is to downsize the college. It is the program the S.F. Chronicle argued for even before the ACCJC came into the picture. And the use of the word “center” is also a tipoff, because the downsizers and privatizers have insisted that the language of the college be altered and what have for decades been called “campuses” now be called “centers”.

    Brice Harris goes on to state:

    “This will put the recovery process in a much higher gear and move much faster,” said Harris, noting that there is only one year remaining to save the college.

    So, no talk of mismanagement and the confusing rhetoric of the ACCJC here. No. It’s straight up. The faculty, students, and even some of the Board of Trustees have been defenders of the college campuses — and Brice Harris really tips his hand, and tips off the real agenda here by indicating what it really is all about — downsizing. And once accomplished “the recovery process” will be “in a much higher gear and move much faster”.

    This is dismantling of public education 101 — the favorite subject of a whole class of corporate exploiters looking to knock down high quality, low cost public education, while the schlock purveyors of the for profit education industry, who, for all their malfeasance and fraud are never dinged by the likes of the ACCJC and so are free to move in to take advantage of those whom this new reduced version of city college will no longer be able to serve.

  2. Paul on Jul 5, 2013 at 4:28 pm07/5/2013 4:28 pm

    • 000

    It’s hard to conceive of a less stringent accreditation regime than the one we’ve adopted in the U.S. When so much of a routine accreditation review revolves around an institution’s “self-study”, institutions that fail must truly be doing something wrong.

    In CCSF’s case, it sounds as if ongoing programs were funded with one-time money or reserves. When the funding isn’t sustainable, neither are the programs. It is dishonest to enroll students in programs that might not be around for the students to complete. It is in that sense that funding and academics are related.

    It sounds as if there was no active management function left, either. The faculty had wrested control of the college. Since this became a practice, it is subject to collective bargaining, and so would be nearly impossible to undo. With the union’s taking the accrediting body to court and receiving support from (Democratic Party) friends in Washington, D.C., the chances of restoring normal lines of control — where the needs of all parties, not just of the faculty, would be weighed — are even slimmer.

    That said, colleges that lose accreditation don’t close. They are simply taken over by neighboring colleges. Such an outcome would preserve programs for students, while possibly allowing the nominal “purchaser” to reclaim management’s power over a recalcitrant, spendthrift, and historically non-teaching coterie of senior faculty.

    I am reminded of a decision made years ago to demote the heads of the colleges at the University of California, Santa Cruz (British-style colleges within a unversity, not community colleges). The then-eight deans retained their academic authority, but ceded administrative control to new Chief Administrative Officers, one per pair of colleges. I didn’t support that change, described in “The Rise and Demise of the College System at UCSC”, because there hadn’t been a problem with the old system. CCSF, on the other hand, shows what happens when senior faculty do whatever they please.

  3. Cynthia Eagleton on Jul 5, 2013 at 12:45 pm07/5/2013 12:45 pm

    • 000

    Thanks, El, for articulating all that. I think you hit the nail on the head. There’s that piece – financial versus educational issues. And then there’s the piece of how all this is presented – or not – to the public. And then there’s the piece of if things are shifting in how accreditation works… why are they shifting? And… why isn’t the media doing a better job of covering that – and other shifts. There’s so much to understand. Until I became involved in advocacy for Adult Education, I never fully grasped the value and necessity of the press. Not really. I think always before I’ve felt impatient with the public for not better understanding things. Now I realize: in order to understand something, you need facts and context. And that’s what a good, functioning press does for a culture. I guess I can go even further and look at how education does this, as well… so when you have a public which does not appear to be well-informed… you can look to where the information flows in…. and then check and see if there is a blockage.

    Honestly, this reminds me of the plumber I called last week. Best plumber I’ve met in my life. He looked things over, asked a few questions, had me turn on some faucets and flush the toilet. Then he explained what the problem was – and where. Then he explained how he figured that out. (Guy is a born teacher!) He explained to me that with plumbing, you’re always looking to where the flow stops… he explained you have to look at the larger whole… while also seeing the various parts. You look to where the flow stops or slows. And figure things out from there. In that fractile kind of way, we can do the same with our culture. How does information circulate? Where does it stop, start, slow, or change? All education is is a formalized system for passing on information – as well as (hopefully) a system for passing on information about how to get more information. That’s it. I say “all education is” as if that’s nothing. Of course, that is everything! Because it shapes what and how we perceive things.

    I grew up around teachers and never, ever wanted to go into teaching because I saw how fraught the whole thing was. Constant argument over what would be taught to whom and at what cost. I knew it was about who had the hand on the wheel. I didn’t want to be part of that argument. Too heated. Too ugly. But teaching is a calling, and I answered mine, just like that plumber is answering his when he not only fixes the flow but explains how it works. I thought by getting into Adult Education, I was somehow outside the fray, in the safety zone of the hinterlands, where I could do meaningful work of real value to the whole, while escaping the ugliness of arguments about curriculum and cost. But the war moved to me. And now I find myself not only teaching in a part of the public education system that just barely continues to exist, but living in a city where we may lose one of the largest community colleges in the country. I’d like to shove my head in the sand. I’d like to move away. But I can’t. Not only is that morally wrong but it’s not even possible in a practical kind of way. So what I’d like to help me keep my head out of the sand is information that will help me understand that war, what’s involved, what’s at stake, who is liable to die in the process, and what actions I can take that can bring an end to that war and a return of peace.

    Is “peace” an illusion? Sure. There will always be differences. And that’s okay. But the ugliness that has entered into things… the way education is now suddenly the enemy… whether that’s teachers in Wisconsin, CCSF, or Adult Education for Older Adults (“We can’t afford these wasteful classes! What value have healthy older adults?”)… deeply troubles me.

    I am trying to look at this time as a time of transition. Not to get caught up in fear and to feel hopeless about things.

    People want to control education because education directs thought.

    Of course.

    It’s that simple and always will be.

    But the great, frustrating, and triumphant thing about life is that it’s not controllable. There is constant flux, change, and mutation – as anyone who has ever taught kids knows. (I’ve done that, too.)

    Right now, many people are trying to create, force, and advocate for new structures.

    Something will win out.

    And inevitably, that winning structure will decay and be upended by yet another structure.

    What’s certain is change.

    I have to back up that far to keep hope in times like these… because I truly am troubled by what’s happening at CCSF. I do not feel a love of the people at work. I do not feel it, at all.

  4. el on Jul 5, 2013 at 10:57 am07/5/2013 10:57 am

    • 000

    From my limited understanding, it seems to me that the accreditation loss is all about financial issues, not about the education being provided.

    This confuses me, because in no other context have I seen “accreditation” as a concept applied to an educational institution be about money management.

    From my again very limited understanding, it appears that there have been some questionable wing-and-a-prayer financial choices made, and that in general they got lucky by getting those funding increases that … probably weren’t wise to count on. I don’t have a problem with there being corrective action there.

    This is obviously a well used and highly appreciated campus. Any action that would cause its outright *closure* seems, from my perspective, idiotic.

    Given that the finances did end up working out… I’m not clear what the other ‘mismanagement’ issues are, or why those should be met with the response that government financial aid is not appropriately spent at this institution. (Particularly when you consider all the high-cost, high-default, low-value, for profit institutes have not lost their accreditation: see or google for the other source of your choice.)

  5. Cynthia Eagleton on Jul 5, 2013 at 10:38 am07/5/2013 10:38 am

    • 000

    CarolineSF, thank you for clarifying that, because I was confused. And Navigio, thanks for that phrase, “I probably won’t make any friends saying this.”

    I’ve always posted on Edsource with my full name and with the blog I run as well. I hesitated doing that, this time.

    I am deeply, deeply troubled by what is happening with CCSF and with how it is being presented and perceived.

    I live in SF. I work in K12 AE. I’ve gone to school at CCSF, Laney, Antelope Valley College, San Francisco State, Berkeley, and the University of New Orleans.

    I know a little something about CCSF, community colleges, and Adult Ed. Enough to know that these topics are often not covered accurately or fully by the media. Edsource does the best work and Edsource sometimes does not have important bits. And I say that with all respect because I deeply appreciate and respect Edsource. But when Edsource misses stuff… you know for sure that other media sources do.

    An example of what Edsource has missed is the breadth of Adult Ed and how the desire to “narrow the mission” plays into everything that has happened in the past five years and will happen in future years. I’m not even saying if that’s good or bad… I’m just saying that that very, very important directional shift has not been teased out and presented out as a hugely important change.

    It needs to be examined – somewhere. Presented in context. And with all the facts.

    That’s never happened anywhere.

    Mostly, programs like Older Adults and Parent Ed are never mentioned when AE is written about.

    How does that connect to CCSF? CCSF has those programs, too. CCSF is the delivery system for Adult Education in SF.

    This has yet to be mentioned in the media – again, anywhere!

    Edsource has covered Regional Consortia. In two years, K12 Adult Schools, CCs, and Correctional Facilities and other agencies that deliver AE will work together to deliver AE in their regions.

    How is that going to play out in SF?

    I rarely see non-credit covered as an “issue” in all the CCSF coverage.

    Nannette Asimov is the ed reporter for SF Chron. More than 90% of the articles about CCSF are written by her and when I talk to folks in SF (I remind you that I live in SF), their understanding is usually based on what she’s written.

    Folks seem to have two sorts of “understandings” about CCSF.

    One is that CCSF works. We, as a city, like it. That’s why we voted for Prop A. We like it. We think it works. We want to keep it.

    Then there is the fact that “we” know it is in trouble. We read articles in the Chron (by Asimov) that tells us it’s in trouble.

    Wow, we think. That’s terrible! Why is it in trouble?

    And Asimov explains why.

    And people buy that.

    And end of story.

    But back to non-credit… Asimov wrote one article on non-credit OA potentially being cut. But it was presented in isolation. There were no dots that readers could connect, so that they could see this is part of a larger directional change.

    Maybe many Californians like that change. Maybe they don’t.

    Either way, they deserve to get all the facts and a context in which to understand them. That way, they can make informed decisions.

    I guess that’s my point.

    Hands down, Edsource provides the best, most accurate coverage of education in this state. And even Edsource sometimes misses things.

    But the average Californian doesn’t read Edsource.

    They read the Chronicle. Or People magazine. Or the Yahoo news of the day bits.

    Without a deeper understanding of what is really happening, the people for whom this college system exists, can’t make informed decisions about how it’s run, paid for, and accredited.

    In the meantime, they go on using it – and happily so.

    I mention that because I never see that mentioned anywhere, either. That the common wisdom I hear in this town is: CCSF Yes! We like it!

    I didn’t hear that about Laney. And I went there, too. That was a while ago and maybe things have changed. That’s not a slam on Laney. I’m just saying I honestly don’t see where CCSF is so horrific that it must be shut down whereas Laney has just met with full approval.

    This isn’t a slam of Edsource, either. I am so grateful Edsource exists! It’s only place any of these issues are covered.

    This is a crazy time in education. There’s so much to cover. And journalism, like education, has changed. We don’t have the journalistic resources we used to. In some ways, we have more options and in some ways fewer. It’s very challenging.

    It’s also true that because it’s a crazy time, it’s all the more important that we, the people, stay informed. And that the decision makers remember to go to the people, the users of the system, and ask for their wisdom, as well.

    There some kind of disconnect that deeply troubles me…

    We have this tiny group that is supposed to represent the people of California…

    but it’s “conclusions” are different from the general wisdom of the people.

    Something is wrong when that happens.

    When most people like something and use it… when it works… when it does its job… there is something good there.

    I’m not reading – anywhere – about the good that CCSF does.

    And I don’t care how many problems it has – it obviously does good, as well, or it simply wouldn’t have any students!

    And when you don’t present me with the good about something that is used… then I can’t trust what you’re telling me about the bad… because I can see that you are not someone who provides the whole picture… so I don’t trust you.

    This is not directed at “you,” Edsource… but to a larger “you” in terms of the message being delivered by the media and the “powers that be” about CCSF.

    This was long and a bit rambly. But this situation troubles me so deeply… I’m still trying to sort it all out.

  6. CarolineSF on Jul 5, 2013 at 7:40 am07/5/2013 7:40 am

    • 000

    The point is that there is NO talk of SHUTTING DOWN the Housing Authority — it’s not in the realm of possibility — while that’s the ultimate threat for City College.

    As I and every San Franciscan go about my day today, we’ll be encountering people, or the work of people, who got their career training at City College — in food service, health care, criminal justice, horticulture, many other areas that affect our lives. Just a point of information that people need to understand (it may be less apparently to people outside SF).


    • Guest on Jul 5, 2013 at 10:31 am07/5/2013 10:31 am

      • 000

      Hopefully, the successful vocational training departments will survive this crisis and and be absorbed into other nearby community colleges. There is a lot of abuse and wasteful use of tax payer’s money. These bad practices should go away with the college.

  7. CarolineSF on Jul 4, 2013 at 3:40 pm07/4/2013 3:40 pm

    • 000

    Here in San Francisco, the Housing Authority has been in total meltdown. The executive director has been fired and the board replaced. But there’s no talk of shutting down the Housing Authority or closing up all the public housing programs. Those things aren’t in the realm of possibility, despite the severity of the problems.

    A lot of people are asking why CCSF would be different.


    • Guest on Jul 4, 2013 at 10:33 pm07/4/2013 10:33 pm

      • 000

      Is there a accreditation agency to hold the Housing Authority up to standard ? If not, may be it is time to create one. Students and the general public should feel fortunate that ACCJC is there is ensure the quality of higher education institutes.

  8. navigio on Jul 4, 2013 at 12:25 pm07/4/2013 12:25 pm

    • 000

    I probably wont make any friends saying this but what does accreditation mean if colleges are continually allowed to ignore the standards? Some of these colleges are in these positions for good reason. Who will hold them to their duties if the accreditation process does not? I expect most of the ‘outrage’ we will hear is not because an injustice has been done but because people did not really expect the good ol’ days of endless warnings and meanginless probations to come to an end. Perhaps the accreditation commission also wants accreditation to mean something? I also wonder how much increased pressure from the state to get results is driving this change.

  9. Marty Hittelman on Jul 3, 2013 at 5:27 pm07/3/2013 5:27 pm

    • 000

    The fight to save CCSF is not over. Not only is there the ability to call for a review of the decision but also a challenge to the decision itself, there is still the requirement by the U.S. Department of Education to answer completely the complaint of the California Federation of Teachers with regard to violations committed by the ACCJC. There is also the possible sanction against the ACCJC itself when it is considered for re-accreditation this Fall. The “my way or the highway” attitude of the Commission is now under scrutiny at the national level.

    At its June meeting, the ACCJC sanctioned almost fifty percent of the colleges that were up for accreditation. This is completely out of step with the rest of the country’s accreditation agencies. At some point the ACCJC will answer to its rampage against the community colleges of California.

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