Who killed City College?

Loss of accreditation tied to federal push for austerity and a curriculum that feeds universities and the economy

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Activist Windsong at a City College rally
PHOTO BY JOE FITZGERALD

news@sfbg.com

The day City College of San Francisco heard it would close was the same day, July 3, that 19-year-old Dennis Garcia signed up for his fall classes.

With a manila folder tucked under his arm, he turned the corner away from the registration counter and strode by a wall festooned with black and white sketches of every City College chancellor since 1935, including a portrait of bespectacled founder Archibald Cloud. In a meeting room on the other side of that wall, the college's current administrators were receiving the verdict from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

It was their worst fears of the past year realized: City College's accreditation was being revoked. Accreditation is necessary for the college to receive state funding, for students to get federal loans, and for the degree to be worth more than the paper it's printed on.

Unbeknownst to Garcia, he walked out of the building just as the college received its death sentence, which is scheduled to be carried out next July unless appeals now underway offer a reprieve. In the interim, CCSF will essentially be a ward of the state, stripped of the local control it has enjoyed since Cloud's days.

Just a few blocks down Ocean Avenue is the nerve center of City College's teachers union. Housed in a flat above a Laundromat, the scent of freshly washed clothes wafted up the staircase to an office that instantly became a flurry of ringing phones and rushed voices.

Only an hour later, 10 or so union volunteers were calling their members, contacting nearly 1,600 City College faculty whose responses ranged from sad to furious. The volunteers read them bulleted factoids about accreditation and a call to join an upcoming protest march.

But the woes of City College reach deeper than a three line script could ever cover, and can be traced back to the oval office itself, leading to a really odd question: Did President Obama kill City College?

 

 

PRESSURE FROM THE TOP

When the president trumpeted education in his 2012 State of the Union speech, he sounded an understandable sentiment. "States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets," Obama told the nation. "And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down."

But the specifics of how to cut costs were outlined by years of policymaking and a State of the Union supplement sheet given to the press.

The president's statement said that they will determine which colleges receive aid, "either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system; or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results."

The emphasis is ours, but the translation is very simple: College accreditation agencies can either enforce the administration's numbers-based plan or be replaced. The president's college reform is widely known and hotly debated in education circles. Commonly known as the "completion agenda," with an emphasis on measurable outcomes in job placement, it had its start under President George W. Bush, but Obama carried the torch.

The idea is that colleges divest from community-based programs not directly related to job creation or university degrees, and use a data measurement approach to ensure two-year schools transfer and graduate students in greater numbers. "Community colleges" would quickly become "junior colleges," accelerating a slow transition that began many years ago.