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The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges has been the target of vigorous criticism over the past decade for being too tough on California’s community colleges – or too lax.

The ACCJC is the accrediting agency for public and private colleges offering two-year associate degrees in California, Hawaii, and also in Pacific territories such as Guam.

For main story on the ACCJC, go here. 

Tensions between the community colleges and the commission have increased in recent years in tandem with the larger number of sanctions imposed on colleges seeking renewal of their accreditation.

In 2005, for example, the California Federation of Teachers passed a resolution saying the commission was “a private organization that is accountable to no one it serves.” In 2006, the head of the Peralta Federation of Teachers, the union representing faculty and other staff at four East Bay community colleges, accused the commission of being “out of control.” In 2010, the Academic Senate representing faculty at all 112 colleges considered introducing a motion of no confidence in the commission, but withdrew it after circulating it widely. Earlier this year, a member of the accreditation of committee of the  Academic Senate complained that community colleges would continue to “be bycatch in nets intended to trap abuse by for-profit colleges.”

At the same time, the commission, and others like it around the country, have come under pressure from the federal government to make sure that colleges respond to concerns raised in the accrediting process — or potentially lose their accreditation.

“Is our commission tough?” asked Barbara Beno, the commission’s longtime president. “Does it uphold standards? Yes, it does.” As to the range of sanctions imposed by the commission on more than two dozen of California’s community colleges, she said, “The situation that any college finds itself in is the result of choices and a set of decisions they have made that have led to the current crisis.”

The commission is one of the three accrediting commissions that are part of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and one of six regional agencies around the nation “recognized” by the U.S. Department of Education.

The commission is required to review colleges every six years in order to renew their accreditation. Colleges do their own internal reviews, and then are visited for four to five days by a team of between 8 and 12 volunteers who are typically administrators, faculty, and on occasion trustees of colleges.  The evaluation team writes a report with recommendations to the full commission, which makes a final determination as to the college’s accreditation status.

The commission is a membership organization made up of 19 members, five faculty members and three administrators from member colleges, three so-called “public members” with no connection to any member college, six others representing the accrediting agencies and other higher education institutions, and two with no affiliation to any categories. Members are nominated to sit on the commission, and selected by the heads of the member institutions.

If it finds deficiencies in the colleges it accredits, the commission can issue three levels of sanctions:

  • A warning means that a college has “deviated” from the commission’s requirements for eligibility and other standards.
  • Placing a college on probation means it has “deviated significantly” from those standards.
  • When a college is “in substantial non-compliance,” as the commission asserts is the case with City College of San Francisco, College of the Redwoods and Cuesta College, it must “show cause” as to why it should not lose its accreditation within a certain period of time.

As the commission states, “In such cases, the burden of proof will rest on the institution to demonstrate why its accreditation should be continued.”

The commission has actually only revoked the accreditation of one college. That was in 2005, when Compton Community College lost its accreditation. But even then the college did not close, but was renamed the El Camino Compton Center, and came under the umbrella of the El Camino Community College District.

Even as colleges must apply to the ACCJC for renewal of their accreditation, every five years the commission must apply for a renewal of its “recognition” from the U.S. Department of Education to ensure that it is maintaining a high level of educational quality at the institutions it accredits. The federally appointed National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) reviews accrediting agencies’ applications for “recognition” and makes recommendations to the Secretary of Education as to whether recognition should be granted.

This is an updated version of a post published on December 2, 2012. 

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