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.