With just a year to prove to the regional Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges that City College of San Francisco is worthy of continued operation, Robert Agrella is optimistic that he can provide the leadership needed to save the struggling institution.
In an interview Wednesday, his first since being granted extraordinary powers by the state in a last-ditch effort to save CCSF, Agrella vowed to keep making the changes necessary to get the school into compliance with accreditation standards and eligibility requirements.
Agrella didn't reveal Wednesday what specific actions he has in store. He vowed, however, that reforming the college's finances and governance are two of his top priorities. Both were among the 14 areas called out by the commission as needing improvement at CCSF.
One year ago, City College received the accrediting body's harshest sanction. The commission gave CCSF until March of this year to demonstrate why it should remain open.
Agrella was brought on by CCSF's board of trustees to act as an adviser as it navigated this process. College officials kicked into high gear to meet the commission's standards by closing campuses, instituting pay cuts, changing their mission statement and creating a new administrative structure. But when college officials received notice that their efforts were insufficient and that CCSF would lose its accreditation in July 2014, Agrella's role was elevated.
College officials have filed for a review of the commission's ruling and plan to appeal, pending that review. CCSF remains accredited until July 2014 or longer depending on the appeals process.
By the spring semester, Agrella said, he hopes that enough progress will have been made that he can ask members of the commission to visit CCSF and see for themselves.
"We made a lot of progress toward the accreditation standards," Agrella said. "My job now is to see that that progress gets continued."
Agrella said CCSF won't see immediate changes. Students who have enrolled in the past can expect the same institution in the fall.
But according to California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris, things will not remain that way.
"Some compensation rollbacks are going to be necessary," Harris recently said. "But figuring out how the finances of this place will work and getting the academic planning in place and program evaluation are all things" that need to happen.
Agrella said he's preparing for changes in enrollment, which could drop due to the accreditation problems.
"I can't say we're looking for a huge drop come fall, but if we do have a huge drop, we'll probably have to adjust some plans," he said. "The best way to keep a healthy institution is to maintain or grow enrollment and we have some capacity for growth."
Agrella said that as he works, he hopes to be as open as he possibly can with the City College community by posting notices of changes when they do happen.
"I plan on trying to be as informative and as accessible as possible given the job," he said.
Agrella said forums and informal talks could take the place of open board meetings, but none have been scheduled yet.