There is no doubt that City College of San Francisco has deep-rooted systemic problems, and regardless of what lies ahead for the community college, changes need to be made. But as the clock ticks down to the institution's potential closure, which officials are fighting hard to avert, new facts raise serious questions about the process that led to City College possibly losing its accreditation in 2014.
The agency that accredits CCSF, and the other community colleges and associate-degree granting schools in the Western United States, is the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. Such accreditation is important for numerous reasons, among them that without it the school and students who attend it would not qualify for financial aid.
It appeared to be bad news in 2012 when the accrediting commission gave City College its stiffest sanction. The move by the commission meant the college had to prove why it should be allowed to keep operating. The commission advanced a total of 14 recommendations for improvement at CCSF, including many regarding its finances and management.
Then the other shoe dropped in July: the commission pulled CCSF's accreditation effective in 2014. The school had the year to fight to stay open. In the aftermath of that announcement, the tone of the discussion seemed to have shifted from the commission and whether it was right to issue the sanction to one about how to keep the college open. There was grumbling about the commission's actions, but that understandably faded to the background.
But the commission's process came back into the spotlight this past week following a letter from the U.S. Department of Education, the agency that oversees it. The letter raised multiple issues about whether City College should have ever received the threatened loss of accreditation that set it on the path toward potential closure. The letter was a response to a complaint from the California Federation of Teachers and American Federation of Teachers over the commission's sanction of City College.
A few of the recommendations are largely procedural and might not have resulted in any different outcome for CCSF. These items are concerning, but not as much as the allegation that the accreditation commission did not follow federal guidelines when it came to correcting issues it found at City College back in 2006.
At the time, several issues were considered recommendations for improvement, and not deemed important enough to be corrected, which the Department of Education requires within two years. But then the accrediting commission cited those same deficiencies in its more serious 2012 sanction. City College had a multitude of serious weaknesses in 2012, but these were clearly compounded by the accrediting commission's failure to make the college begin solving its problems after the earlier 2006 review.
Unless the commission can demonstrate that the Department of Education was wrong in its critique of these weaknesses, the entire basis of CCSF's revoked accreditation should now be re-examined.