As City College of San Francisco wages a last-ditch campaign to remain accredited, officials from a California school that failed the same assignment see eerie similarities and urge university supporters to cooperate with CCSF's critics.
In June 2005, six months after Compton College was given the most severe sanction from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, officials learned their school would lose its accreditation. The school eventually closed and its facilities were taken over by another college.
CCSF received the same sanction one year ago, and last month officials learned that its accreditation will be lost by July 30 unless they successfully appeal the ruling.
As Compton officials have watched this process unfold again, they recognize many of the same dynamics and warning signs that ultimately resulted in the demise of their school. But despite the similarities, these observers are hopeful CCSF can avoid their school's fate.
"This is deja vu all over again," said Arthur Fleming, a retired Compton professor who sat on the board of trustees. "It's as if we're replaying the same drama, so far with no difference in the script."
Both colleges were cited for governance and financial troubles as reasons for termination of accreditation. Both colleges also were criticized for not having mechanisms in place to track student learning outcomes. In Compton, however, evidence of fraud was found after financial audits. City College has no traces of fraud, according to a recent report released by the state's Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team.
Districts that have been sanctioned by the commission can turn things around and survive. Lassen and Solano community colleges both did so while Thomas Henry was a special trustee there. But when Henry reached Compton, in early 2006, he knew there was a problem.
Henry, who is currently working to save Eureka's College of the Redwoods, said the Compton school had many more issues than were publicly perceived.
"It looked pretty bleak to me," recalled Henry, who remains the school's special trustee. "I didn't see a means by which they could actually be successful during any kind of appeal. The number of deficiencies was striking."
So rather than lose the school completely, Henry looked for some way to keep the doors open. His solution was to merge with nearby El Camino College — an option that state officials have ruled out for CCSF.
"When an option of a partnership was broached we decided that was a more logical way to go," said Saul Panski, then president of Compton's Academic Senate. "If we lost, and if the board in place at that time continued to be belligerent, it might not have ended well."
Panski and Henry said the best advice they could give supporters of City College is to heed the commission's wishes.
"Fighting the commission is not a smart idea," Panski said. "You have to cooperate. If the commission lays out a blueprint in what they want you to do, you have to do it."
After all, Fleming noted, the commission could have given both colleges as much as two years to turn around their operations, but chose not to. Compton had six months to appeal the decision and City College has one year. The commission has made it clear that it is not required to give any institution the maximum time allowable.
Fleming said he finds the resistance to the commission's dictates from CCSF's faculty, staff and students quite familiar. Even the campaign to retain students — "open, accredited, enrolling" — is the same.
"It was our mantra," Fleming said. "Enrollment, though, really was killer. It was the worst thing about the whole process."
That retention campaign didn't work; Compton College had about 6,100 students in fall 2004 and only 2,700 students by fall 2005. The college ceased to exist in August 2006.
Enrollment for City College's fall semester was down 13 percent before the start of school last week.