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San Francisco City College to Lose Accreditation

SAN FRANCISCO — The agency that certifies two-year colleges in the western United States told City College of San Francisco last week that the school will lose its accreditation a year from now, a move that could lead to the closure of one of the nation’s largest institutions of higher learning.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris said the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges notified City College officials of its verdict in a letter. The commission said the public college, which enrolls 85,000 full- and part-time students on nine campuses and two centers, had failed to fix problems with financial management, instructional standards, library services and other areas after it was put on a probationary “show-cause” list last year.

School officials had been ordered to show improvement by mid-March or risk losing accreditation.

Accreditation is seal of approval education institutions receive so consumers and government officials know they are meeting certain performance standards. Not being accredited would make City College ineligible for federal and state funding and its students ineligible for public financial aid.

Although the revocation of City College’s accreditation would not take effect until July 31, 2014, and the school can still seek a review and then an appeal of the action, the commission’s determination came as a shock to state and local officials who had hoped the college’s leaders had taken to address the concerns would secure a reprieve.

“I am furious, and I think this decision is absolutely outrageous,” Rafael Mandelman, a member of the college’s elected Board of Trustees, said. “Every person and every part of this school have done backflips to address issues the ACCJC raised. At the end of all of this, to reach this result, is mind-boggling.”

While acknowledging the development is serious, Harris, California’s community colleges chief, sought to reassure students who are already enrolled or plan to attend the college in the fall are not at risk of losing credits or having nowhere to continue their educations.

“The college is still open, accredited and accepting students for fall term,” he said. “The process of appeal is a long one. … The students of San Francisco City College, while we are going through this  process, they have a place they can go to college.

Harris said that, in addition to encouraging an appeal, he would ask the Board of Governors that oversees California’s 112 community colleges to appoint a special trustee with authority to make decisions that now fall to City College’s elected trustees. The trustee would have independent authority over the school’s budget and programs, as well as the power to negotiate with its unionized employees.

“The best course of action to rescue City College from certain closure is to appoint a trustee with extra powers,” he said. “The college does not have the luxury of time and a special trustee offers the only hope.”

While other community colleges have struggled in recent years to cope with severe reductions in state funding, the commission said in a report on City College last year that officials had failed to make the course and salary reductions necessary to keep the school on firm footing.

California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt, whose union represents community college faculty and staff, characterized the commission’s decision as petty and mean-spirited. He said his organization planned to file a grievance against the accrediting commission with the U.S. Department of Education, which authorizes regional accrediting bodies. Court action is another possibility, he said.

“This decision by the accrediting commission is an assault on this stellar academic institution,” Pechthalt said. “The commission acts as judge, jury and executioner on community colleges in California and the western states with little regard or concern for their behavior.”

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