California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott told a roomful of people at City College of San Francisco something they didn’t want to hear: They’ll have to prioritize, ration, and do less from now on. At a special meeting of the college’s Board of Trustees last night, called to discuss the school’s accreditation crisis, Scott offered help and advice.
“We’re limited in what we can do, but anytime you want to consult us we will be available, because frankly, this will be a disaster if City College of San Francisco loses its accreditation,” said Scott.
In June, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges gave City College a “show cause” order, the most severe of the three levels of sanctions. Its evaluation identified 14 areas where the college was not meeting standards, including assessing and improving student learning, providing student and library services, school governance, and managing finances – in particular, “a long-standing pattern of late financial audits and deficit spending.” The Commission said some of the problems date back ten years, but City College never did anything about them.
The college has been put on notice and given until March 15, 2013 to complete a report demonstrating how it has corrected the problems. An accrediting team will visit the school again after that report is filed and make its final recommendation in June.
Losing accreditation could have devastating implications for the college’s 90,000 students; they would no longer be eligible for financial aid and could have a difficult time transferring credits to another college. Under those dire circumstances, the college might have to close, but no one at Monday’s meeting expects the worst to happen.
No mission control
Before a room packed with about 100 students, faculty, and staff, some holding signs that read “Save City College” and “City College of SF Belongs to the People,” Chancellor Scott called for people to “roll up their sleeves,” and said the only option is “to come together, recognize that some changes have to be made, and then make those changes that are the least detrimental to the college.”
But trustee Chris Jackson argued that the changes recommended by the accreditation panel require the college to change its mission by prioritizing classes and students and rationing access. “I appreciate the accreditation report because it says we do a great job of serving all communities in San Francisco,” Jackson said, so he was perplexed by the section that called for limiting that mission.
“City College of San Francisco embraces a mission that emphasizes a commitment to an expansive diversity of students within a very diverse community,” wrote the accrediting commission. But later on, they countered that the college doesn’t have enough money to continue with this sweeping mission and needs to prioritize its ever-shrinking budget.
The school has lost more than $53 million over the last three years and cut hundreds of classes. Chancellor Scott reminded everyone that what’s happening there is not unique. “You’re not being picked on,” he said. “All the community colleges have been faced with this very same problem.” Statewide, community colleges have incurred $809 million in cuts since 2008-09. “We’re not even talking about mission; what you have to do is do less than you did three years ago. There’s no other way to face that,” said Scott to a smattering of hisses from some in the room.
English as a second language teacher Teresa Pon was glad to hear the chancellor say out loud what she has been thinking for years. “It’s embarrassing, but to be very honest there were things in the report that I can’t deny. It hit on our weaknesses; we should have been working on the student learning outcomes as an institution,” said Pon, enunciating each syllable in “institution” for effect. “Five, six years ago there was a very feeble attempt that went nowhere. I was on that original group. We never met once, not once.”
That’s what irks Shanell Williams, president of the Associated Students at City College’s Ocean campus. Not only are students afraid of what’s going to happen to the school, said Williams, but they’re also angry to be put in this position, and place some blame on the trustees and other school leaders, who, she says, dropped the ball and allowed the situation to become a crisis.
“If the Board of Trustees doesn’t do its job and doesn’t represent students and make our college viable and get us through this accreditation process, we want them to resign,” said Williams. “We want leadership that’s going to ensure that students get what they need from our school and that we’re not shut down.”