City College loses accreditation, throwing its future into doubt

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A student registers for classes at City College shortly before the announcement was made about revoking its accreditation.
Joe Fitzgerald

City College of San Francisco will lose its accreditation, it was announced today, and the venerable local college may not survive. With its impending death, the future of thousands of San Franciscans seeking education and a better life are in limbo.

The loss of accreditation becomes effective in one year, and the decision is being appealed, during which time local control is being transferred to a state trustee. The California Community College Chancellor's Office has not yet named the trustee that it will appoint, and officials say the trustee will be given full authority to make decisions in the place of the current Board of Trustees.

"I think state intervention is going to be necessary,” said Mayor Ed Lee told reporters this afternoon.

“It's imperative City College stay open for business and education the 85,000 students it serves" Lee said in a conference call with reporters. "I'm concerned about the devastating impact City College's termination would have on our great city."

The long-awaited decision was expected sometime around this long holiday weekend, and officials knew losing the accreditation was a possibility, but most said privately that they didn’t think the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges would actually pull the trigger. So right now, everyone is still reeling from the news.

"It’s too soon to say who that special trustee will be at that point," State Community College Chancellor Brice Harris said. 

Locally elected Trustee Rafael Mandelman said that the locally elected board will continue operating until July of 2014, when the termination of the accreditation becomes effective, but it's unclear what authority it will now have. 

“It’s disappointing, it’s outrageous, I don't think it’s called for. I don't think it’s the right outcome. I don’t think the state is going to do a better job running the school than a local board could,” he told us.

“We believe that the best way to bring the college from certain closure is to put the college under trusteeship of certain powers,” Harris said, adding that the search for a new chancellor for CCSF will now be accelerated. The current chancellor is an interim chancellor, the second one in a year after chancellor Don Griffin left the school due to an illness.

“We are disappointed in the Commission’s decision. We will be filing a request for review and will do everything in our power to have this decision reversed,” Chancellor Thelma Scott-Skillman said in a prepared statement. “What is of utmost importance at this time is that City College remains open, and instruction and services will continue. We want to assure our students and their families that we will serve them and continue to provide the high quality education that they expect from City College. We will continue to register new and returning students for the Fall semester and look forward to their arrival on campus in August.”

City College was put on sanction by the commission back in July of 2012 after allegedly failing to fix issues identified by the commission six years prior. Since then, the college has been in panic mode. 

The threat of closure brought drastic changes at whip lash speed over the past few months: two campuses shuttered, over 40 counselors and support staff were laid off, faculty took a 7 percent pay cut and student enrollment has plummeted.

Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance Peter Goldstein put the college's finances this way, "This has been a nightmare of a fiscal year."

But there were positive improvements as well, said Alisa Messer, an English teacher and faculty union president of City College's local AFT 2121. 

"Faculty have banded together and worked hard to address the requirements around student learning outcomes," Messer said. SLOs, as they're commonly known, measure student learning over the course of a class and in a student's college career. 

"The accrediting commission felt it wasn't integrated throughout the college, but they would be hard pressed to say it isn't now," she said.

Despite City College's improvements the California Federation of Teachers is set on fighting the accreditation commission's decision. They filed a massive 280-plus page complaint to the U.S. Department of Education alleging that the accreditation commission violated many of its own rules in evaluating CCSF.

 

The commission responded by locking out over 30 faculty and concerned citizens from its most recent public meeting, even barring a reporter from the SF Chronicle from entering.  

Now the commission has asked visiting accreditation teams, who evaluate colleges on site, to shred their documentation to make such complaints harder to research, which was originally reported on by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

"The work you do here is a position of trust, the documents you receive are given to you in that light." said a faculty member who had served on prior accreditation teams, but did not wish to be named because they are not approved to speak on behalf of the accreditation commission. "When you're done fulfilling your responsibility its good policy to dispose of them, and its the commission's expectation."

Some of the documents are proprietary information at for-profit colleges, such as Heald. It makes sense to protect that private information. The visiting team has "a look behind the curtain," the faculty member said. 

But Messer isn't buying it. "We've asked they be more transparent, they've done the opposite of that," Messer said.

On the college's Ocean campus, just outside the Chancellor's office in a retro brown speckled hallway, Dennis Garcia walked by with his City College registration info in hand.

He's ready for his next semester, and unlike the thousands of students that didn't enroll in City College this year, he forged ahead.  

"I decided to come because I'm not scared or nervous about the school going down," he said.

Garcia is an 18-year-old criminal justice major and SF native who dreams of transferring to San Francisco or San Jose State Universities. He wants to be a star soccer player while in school.

But why did he stay when so many others fled? 

"Why City College? It's home," he said. "People say, coming here is not successful, but I mean, sometimes you don't have money and you're not an A or B student, but you get your math and English done and you go from there. College is college."

Now, whether City College remains a college this time next year is still an open question.