It surprised many, from students to the State Chancellor, when the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) announced that it would revoke City College's accreditation. True, the City College administration had not finished implementing the Board of Trustee's recovery plan. But it had made significant progress in all 14 categories of issues laid out by ACCJC.
The District is financially stable, with a budget surplus. We now have a healthy reserve fund that is larger than what the state requires. City College has enough money to spend on areas demanded by the Accrediting Commission, such as new technology for students, beefed-up building maintenance, and the pay-down of the retiree health benefit liability.
Although the College's budget is healthy this year, the accreditation decision has caused a 10% drop in enrollment. This could translate to a loss in state funding of over $15 million next year. The most direct, tangible thing people can do to help is to take a class. You'll help stave off further dramatic cuts and earn life enrichment from some of the finest instructors in the state."
The College has taken drastic action, including removing most administrators from their jobs, overhauling the management structure, and imposing salary cuts. At the time of the June decision, the College was two-thirds through several year-long planning cycles requested by ACCJC. According to ACCJC itself, academic excellence was not an issue. In fact, the student success rate at City College is above the state average.
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Perhaps because of this, the accrediting agency itself has recently come under fire from all levels of government. The Obama Administration said that ACCJC violated federal regulations in rendering its decision against City College. A bi-partisan committee of the state legislature ordered an audit of ACCJC. (The harshest critic was Republican Senator Jim Nielsen.) And San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit to block ACCJC action, and challenged the State of California's decision to delegate its authority to ACCJC.
So how does it affect the future of City College? The Department of Education could revoke ACCJC's authority – basically removing accreditation from the private entity, forcing it to close its doors. But the Department of Education has said that it doesn't have the authority to alter ACCJC's decision against City College. Neither does the State Legislature.
The federal, state, and local actions could dramatically alter the way the state's 112 community colleges are accredited. But only the City Attorney's action is aimed directly at the decision against City College. He is asking the courts to overturn the decision against City College. This could happen.
But City College can't afford to wait for a decision by a court, and is pursuing three tracks on its own. First, through an appeal process, City College is asking ACCJC to reverse its decision to end accreditation. City College will make the case for what has been accomplished over the 13 months, including the work done since ACCJC's June decision. Staff and faculty -- who have been working without a contract since December 2012 and are earning less than they did 6 years ago — have put in tens of thousand of person-hours on accreditation-related efforts, often on their own time, while continuing to teach or provide support services.
Second, the College is continuing to roll out the recovery plan adopted by the Board of Trustees last October, hoping to finish the bulk of it before the appeal decision, which may occur in January.
Finally, we are working to find a new chancellor for the college. New leadership is required to finish the job. The Board of Trustees enacted every item that the current chancellor asked of it, including some very tough and unpopular choices, such as slashing pay, laying off workers, and dismantling decades-old power structures. But the chancellor has not been able to finish the mandates of the Board.
Administration acted too slowly for ACCJC and has not completed what the Board has directed. The procedures that the Board had authorized to be written were not completed. The hiring of new managers took too long, with key slots still empty when ACCJC met in June. An overhaul of the payroll department isn't finished. And the financial software that the college runs on still hasn't been updated – something that I first brought attention to three years ago in a series of hearings.
I am working with College employees and the state-appointed Special Trustee on an aggressive search for a new chancellor; we hope to complete this effort by October. City College needs a top manager who can get the operating procedures written, fill the hiring vacancies, finish the newly created planning cycles, and complete the other tasks that are actually needed for accreditation.
We need someone who can resolve the lingering labor disputes and work with City College's 2500 employees to finish the job started last year. Collaboration with employees is required to make any College function, and more so in a stressful environment of rapid transformation.
Finally, there are the people of San Francisco. Although the College's budget is healthy this year, the accreditation decision has caused a 10% drop in enrollment. This could translate to a loss in state funding of over $15 million next year. The most direct, tangible thing people can do to help is to take a class. You'll help stave off further dramatic cuts and earn life enrichment from some of the finest instructors in the state.
Classes are now in session at City College, which is still fully accredited. Whether it remains so past next July 14 depends on a number of efforts of a number of people – including the people of San Francisco.
John Rizzo is President of the Board of Trustees at City College
Editor's note: It's not too late to register for City College go to: CCSF.edu—late start, short-term and non-credit classes start all semester long.