Commission votes to revoke City College of San Francisco accreditation

July 3, 2013
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.

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.



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