As City College of San Francisco prepares for a record-high number of graduates at its commencement Friday, support is pouring in to keep California's largest community college alive amid an ongoing accreditation crisis.
On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, released a letter from the U.S. Department of Education that gives possibly the clearest indication yet that the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges has the authority to give CCSF more time to come into compliance with commission standards and eligibility requirements.
"City College is an indispensable part of San Francisco -- one of our most important ladders of opportunity," Pelosi said. "The education CCSF provides has enabled thousands of San Franciscans young and old to invest in themselves and build a better future for themselves and their families."
Pelosi said the Department of Education letter affirms that the commission indeed has the power to grant CCSF an extension to get its procedures in place to meet the requirements, despite its claims that it has no authority to do so.
"For the ACCJC to refuse to allow good-cause extension -- even after this clarification from the Department of Education, even after all the monumental progress City College has made along its Roadmap to Success -- would be destructive, irresponsible and could be viewed as a political act," Pelosi said.
"For the livelihood of the students, the community and the state, the ACCJC must send in a new evaluation team with a fresh set of eyes and allow a good-cause extension of accreditation," she said.
On Tuesday, Pelosi pointed out that CCSF has already completed nearly 85 percent of the 350 objectives laid out in the school's Roadmap to Success that helps the school track its operational, governance and educational goals.
The school's academic success was also measured last month when CCSF was ranked higher than the statewide average in 10 of the 13 top metrics tracked in the Student Success Scorecard. This year, a record high of 2,456 students are expected to graduate, while more than 600 students--also a record--will attend the commencement Friday.
"It won't be a victory until we know that the college and the many students who rely on the college are safe, but it's definitely a turning point," said Alisa Messer, president of American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, the school's faculty union. "Folks are cautious about even considering being hopeful."
Lynn Mahaffie, the Department of Education's senior director for policy coordination, development and accreditation service, wrote in the letter, "The ACCJC has the authority to reconsider or rescind its termination decision so as to provide the institution with additional time to come into compliance ... or to provide an extension for good cause."
However, the commission has previously maintained that it cannot extend CCSF's July 31 deadline. That date is essentially moot due to an impending October trial between the City Attorney's Office and the commission, which prompted a temporary injunction barring CCSF's accreditation loss until the trial is complete.
Last June, the commission voted to strip CCSF's accreditation this summer unless the college came into compliance with commission standards and eligibility requirements.
In an April 1 letter from the Department of Education to the state chancellor, the department reportedly stated that "the good cause extension provision of this regulation does not apply to the current status of CCSF," commission spokeswoman Eliza Chan wrote in an email to The San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday.
But the commission "would consider an extension if the U.S. Department of Education removed all doubt about the commission's authority to do so," ACCJC Chairwoman Sherrill Amador said in a statement last Thursday.
Per federal rules, a recognized accrediting agency can give an institution no more than two years to return to compliance.
"The most recent USDE letter to Nancy Pelosi states that the ACCJC could 'adopt or change its policies,'" Chan noted. "The ACCJC Team is seeking clarification from the USDE team on the above statements."
Despite Pelosi's reaffirmed support of the college Tuesday, along with support from President Manuel Baca of the California Community Colleges board of governors and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, CCSF remains wary of the commission's next move.
The commission is next scheduled to meet from June 4-6, where new accreditation standards will be considered for adoption.
On Tuesday, the commission also once again encouraged CCSF to apply for candidacy status, to give it time to work toward full compliance with federal accreditation law. Candidacy status would require CCSF withdraw its current accreditation, a move Chancellor Art Tyler has said he is not willing to make. Losing accreditation would effectively force CCSF to close.