Standing Up for Real Accreditation at CCSF

Earlier this summer the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) decided, in a shocking move, to terminate accreditation for City College of San Francisco, effective July 2014.

CCSF is the main pathway for the Bay Area working class to public higher education.  This beloved institution supplies more trained workers to local businesses than any other source, and has enabled hundreds of thousands of students to achieve their educational and career goals over the years.

Judged by virtually any measure, this is a remarkably successful college.  It ranks in the top sixth of California community colleges for college completion rates.  Last year the voters of San Francisco gave it an overwhelming mandate, voting by 73% to approve a parcel tax to fix the district’s financial problems, caused by a nasty combination of state underfunding and mismanagement by the district administration.

Yet in 2012 the ACCJC, in an historically unprecedented move, jumped the college from full accreditation to “show cause,” the highest sanction short of terminating accreditation.  This year, ignoring progress by the college toward dealing with its problems (meaning finances; no question has been raised about educational quality), the ACCJC inappropriately and probably illegally exercised the nuclear option.

If City College closes, where will its 85,000 students—largely working class students of color—go?  Their most likely option would be to enroll in far more expensive private colleges, with their track record of poor job placement outcomes, accompanied by huge debt burdens. 

In justifying this action, the ACCJC referred to CCSF’s failure to address “deficiencies” identified in 2006.  However, listen closely:  “deficiencies,” in accreditation-speak, are not the same as “recommendations.” ACCJC made recommendations in 2006 while fully reaccrediting the college.  In misrepresenting its earlier actions in 2012, ACCJC ignored its own policies and federal law.

This is just the beginning of the policies and laws ignored by the ACCJC in its CCSF evaluation, and in sanctioning other colleges with far greater frequency than other regional accreditation agencies.  The ACCJC’s punitive, unnecessary and destructive actions were delineated exhaustively in a complaint filed earlier this year by the California Federation of Teachers.

As a result of that complaint, the month of August did not go well for the agency.  A letter from the United States Department of Education agreed with CFT on key points, admonishing the ACCJC to fix several errors in its assessment of CCSF or face its own termination.  These included:  the appearance of conflict of interest by ACCJC president Barbara Beno in appointing her husband to the CCSF site visit team; failure to field accreditation review teams balanced between administrators and faculty; and failure to distinguish clearly between “recommendations” and “deficiencies” CCSF needed to address after its accreditation was reaffirmed in 2006.

A week after the DOE letter, San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera initiated legal action against the ACCJC, seeking to overturn the de-accreditation of City College, charging, among other things, that “the private agency unlawfully allowed its advocacy and political bias to prejudice its evaluation of college accreditation standards.” (Most observers think the ACCJC punished CCSF for its opposition to a community college reform bill championed by the agency.) Watch the YouTube video.

One week later, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee approved a request by two state senators to audit the ACCJC. In making the request, Republican Senator Jim Nielsen said of ACCJC president Beno,

In all my career, in my thousands of meetings with agency individuals—representatives, secretaries, etc.—I have never dealt with a more arrogant, condescending and dismissive individual.”

Watch the YouTube video.

The outcomes of accreditation review are supposed to be improved instruction and increased access to education.  The opposite is occurring today.  The City College closure ruling should be rescinded, and the U.S. Department of Education should pull the ACCJC’s authority, giving it to an agency that cares less about ideological missions and more about public education and the rule of law.