Schooled

Accrediting commission threatening to shutter City College gets scrutiny from Congress

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US Rep. Jackie Speier pledges to reform the accreditation process during a Nov. 7 forum.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY EVAN DUCHARME

joe@sfbg.com

Federal politicians are blasting the commission that would close City College of San Francisco, calling the entire accreditation process a debacle.

At a forum US Rep. Jackie Speier (D-SF) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) convened at City College on Nov. 7, Speier trumpeted what local advocates have said all along: The evaluation of CCSF was bungled, lacked transparency, and violated federal education regulations, all pointing to a desperate need for reform of its accreditors.

Accreditation has been the means to check the quality of education in colleges, but now a growing chorus of critics says the process can be used to carry out an ideological agenda and usurp local control ("Whose college?" Aug. 13).

Yet upending the accreditation process could also have unintended consequences, perhaps letting corporate and conservative interests seize the chance to implement their long-simmering agendas.

Either way, it is beginning to look like the fight to save City College could end up being about more than just City College.

 

ACCJC UNDER FIRE

The Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges keeps a watchful eye on the community colleges of California, Guam, and Hawaii. After a six-year review, the ACCJC this summer rocked City College by terminating its accreditation, pending appeals before the sentence is carried out in July 2014.

At the forum, Speier said the debacle with the ACCJC signaled a need to reform accreditation on a national level, citing a lack of public accountability.

"I think the ACCJC has run amok, they have lost their vision — if they ever had one," Speier said in an interview after the forum. "They are riddled with conflicts of interest and arbitrariness."

Teachers, faculty, and education advocates packed City College's Diego Rivera Theater, all cheering at every jibe toward the ACCJC. Pressure on the group is mounting. A third lawsuit against the body was announced the day of the forum, this one filed by the activist group Save CCSF.

But Speier sees the problems as stemming from the US Department of Education, which she said needs the tools to correct problems at the ACCJC, something she plans to meet with Education Secretary Arne Duncan to discuss.

"The Department of Education only has one hammer, and that is to deny the ACCJC certification," she said.

The group is slated to undergo this evaluation in December, which could spell its end. But if the fight for City College sparks a change in accreditation nationally, what would take its place?

There are wolves at the door of the US education system, for-profit colleges with a history of taking vulnerable students to the bank with nothing to show for it. And they want accreditation reform too.

 

THE DEVIL YOU KNOW

The ideological argument between the ACCJC and City College is taking place nationally.

President Obama called for a change to college accreditation in his last State of the Union speech, calling for higher graduation and transfer rates for community colleges (see "Who killed City College?" July 9).

One of the biggest cheerleaders of the president's reform is the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. At a conference it held on accreditation last month, AEI and its partners lampooned accreditation as it stands now.

"This is a system that is flawed, unable to deal with the rapidly changing higher education landscape," Anne D. Neal, a partner of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a national education reform group, said at the conference. "If meat inspections were as loose as college accreditation... most of us would have mad cow disease."

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