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Officials Abandon Fight to Save Troubled Compton Community College’s Accreditation

Officials Abandon Fight to Save Troubled Compton Community College’s Accreditation
By David Pluviose

In its latest woeful chapter, Compton Community College’s accreditation has been formally revoked, and the school will be absorbed into the nearby El Camino Community College District.

Last year, California Community Colleges Chancellor Mark Drummond filed an appeal with the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, hoping to overturn its decision to strip the institution’s accreditation. He has now abandoned that effort, conceding that the appeal would likely fail.

“The decisions reached earlier by ACCJC were an ominous portent of the potential outcome of this appeal,” Drummond said in a statement. “Realistically, there were no legal options left that would leave the college unscathed, and time was running out for Compton. Closing the college was not an option. The board of governors and college officials had to do what was necessary to keep Compton’s doors open.”

The El Camino district will temporarily take over operation of CCC, which will now be called El Camino College-Compton Center. The move will give CCC a chance to rebuild under El Camino’s accreditation, a process that’s expected to take five to eight years.

According to Drummond’s office, ACCJC found a “dysfunctional governing board” and “continued inadequacy of administrative staff,” among other things, at the beleaguered college, prompting the decision to revoke its accreditation.

Founded in 1927, CCC has long been a progress vehicle for the largely African-American and Hispanic community, which has been plagued by high rates of poverty, violent crime and incarceration. But in 2003, The Los Angeles Times published an article detailing the lavish and often illegal expenditures of top college officials. The paper found thousands of dollars in personal charges on college credit cards, personal use of college automobiles, fraud and unlimited, unaudited expense accounts, all while the state was in the grips of a budget crunch that threatened the jobs of every faculty and staff member.

The scandal prompted an investigation by the district attorney’s office, which led to the indictment of ex-CCC Trustee Ignacio Peña. He eventually pleaded guilty to defrauding the college of more than $1 million in a patronage scheme involving a number of his family members. Peña was sentenced to four years in jail; his wife, Bertha Bayardo Peña, was sentenced to three years of probation for stealing public funds. She was ordered to pay back $150,000 while Ignacio Peña had to pay $1.12 million.

Earlier this summer, the California Assembly passed a bill allowing the El Camino district to take over CCC. The bill, signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, also floats an emergency loan of $30 million to the college, enabling it to meet its payroll and other key operating expenses this year.  “For the largely Latino and African-American student body, Compton Community College is home in their hearts,” says Drummond. “The faculty and staff are dedicated and passionate about their college, their profession and their students. … The problems that brought the college to near-closure and eventual disaccreditation were not of their making, but were the culmination of decades of errant, self-serving individuals, faulty decision-making and, at times, outright neglect and corruption by a few district officials.”

An impoverished urban area such as Compton can complicate matters for the community college that serves it, says Dr. Roscoe C. Brown Jr., director of the Center for Urban Education Policy at New York University and the former president of Bronx Community College.

“Everything comes in a cultural context. Compton is a working class, lower-income community, primarily minority — these people want to move their lives ahead,” he says. “In many of these communities, the public sector — whether it’s education or health or welfare — is the main economic source. And, as you have in any group, there are people that see a particular function as a way for upward mobility. Frequently, they overlook the quality of the function — the reason why they’re there.”

Former El Camino Community College President Dr. Rafael L. Cortada says the absorption of CCC into the El Camino district will “be difficult for both institutions … El Camino is absorbing a whole new faculty, it’s absorbing a whole new set of obligations.” But overall, he says, El Camino’s board of trustees will do much to stabilize its neighbor in Compton.

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