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California Association of Private Postsecondary Schools

S.F. City College accreditation panelists urge different tack

04/15/2014

SFGate. April 15, 2014.

In the clearest indication yet that City College of San Francisco will lose its accreditation, the heads of the secretive commission overseeing the process say they lack the power to give the troubled school more time to fix its problems.

But rather than shut down the college - a scenario presumed by many because unaccredited schools can't get public funding - the commissioners pulled a different rabbit out of the hat in a Sunday editorial in The Chronicle.

College could reapply

Under the new scenario, City College would lose accreditation but keep its public funding by reapplying for new accreditation - a process that could buy the college more time to fix itself, wrote Sherrill Amador, chairwoman of the Accrediting Commission for Communityand Junior Colleges, with Steven Kinsella, the vice chairman.

"There is a path forward that will protect students, taxpayers and the San Francisco community served by the college," they wrote. "City College could seek reaccreditation by applying for 'candidacy' status.

"A candidate college is eligible for federal financial aid and state funding; its students' course credits are generally transferrable, and their degrees or certificates are recognized, as long as the college eventually obtains accreditation after a period of candidacy."

But that proposal, City College and state officials counter, would require the college to voluntarily give up its accreditation before it is officially revoked - which City College officials refuse to do.

"Let me be clear: We are not considering withdrawing our accreditation," college Chancellor Art Tyler said Monday. "To do so would severely harm our current and future students as well as undermine our current enrollment efforts."

Falling enrollment

City College had 90,000 students when its accrediting troubles began in 2012, making it one of the largest colleges in the country. Today it's down to 77,000.

Yet because of its size and location, City College is a key part of California's network of 112 community colleges, say officials who have worked hard to repair its extensive problems.

On March 26, California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee asked the accrediting commission for more time.

"Despite this Herculean effort to improve itself, the college needs more time to finish the job and overcome years of administrative neglect." they wrote in a Chronicle editorial. "The college has earned the right to finish the job."

Amador and Kinsella said no, in part because they saw little evidence last summer - their last inspection - that the college's troubles were close to being fixed. They cited "flawed fiscal controls," "one of the worst organizational structures" among state colleges, and ancient computer systems.

Amador and Kinsella acknowledged "the school is turning for the better" since last summer, when the state replaced the elected Board of Trustees with a special trustee empowered to make unilateral decisions.

But they also said federal law forbids them from granting more time because it requires that colleges come into compliance within two years "or lose accreditation."

Herrera disagrees

That's not true, said San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who cited a federal law saying accrediting agencies can give more time if they believe there is good reason to do so.

"The fact is that City College has been engaged in meeting the requirements - and despite those efforts, you have members of the commission saying their hands are tied, when nothing could be further from the truth," said Herrera, who has sued the commission, claiming its process for evaluating City College was flawed and should be disqualified.

His lawsuit has thrown the timing of City College's accreditation status into flux. The commission had said it would revoke accreditation July 31.

But a judge said the city's case can go forward and has barred the commission from revoking accreditation until the case is resolved. The trial begins on Oct. 27.

Meanwhile, some City College observers say that if the college voluntarily withdraws its accreditation and applies for renewal, it would make the city's lawsuit moot - an ulterior motive for the commission to recommend it.

The private commission conducts business behind closed doors. The lawsuit could bring much of its processes out into the open.