City College of San Francisco Loses Accreditation

The long will-they-or-won’t-they ordeal involving the City College of San Francisco and the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges is over. As ACCJC announced this week, it is yanking the troubled school’s accreditation as of July 2014. Paul Basken of The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the commission has decided that the steps taken by City College just weren’t enough to allow the practically insolvent school to dig itself out.

Although President of the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121 Alisa Messer called the decision both surprising and outrageous, in truth, City College’s fate has been hanging by a thread for a long time. Messer points out that the school has been moving forward with a plan to right itself financially while at the same time maintaining good student performance.

Yet, as Basken points out, whatever steps City College might take wouldn’t put it in the black by 2014-15 academic year. Even with an increase in state and local aid, the revenues weren’t going to be enough to cover the school’s operating budget. After viewing the latest projections, the commission decided that enough was enough and pulled the plug.

The president of the accrediting agency, Barbara A. Beno, said in a letter announcing its decision that the City College “and many of its staff have worked very hard to move the institution forward.” Still, Ms. Beno said, the college “would need more time and more cohesive institutionwide effort” to meet accrediting standards.

The decision leaves the college, its 85,000 students, its 2,600 faculty members, and their surrounding city and state in a sudden and difficult bind. Regaining accreditation on its own through appeals or further reform looms as a long shot. Merging with an accredited institution is fraught with improbabilities. And the college appears to be too large to just shut down entirely.

Not that the College is giving up quite yet. According to Basken, administrators have already announced their intention to appeal and at the same time made public a plan to hire a more powerful trustee to oversee the institution in the coming years. What happens next, however, is still a mystery.

In the only similar instance in state history, Compton Community College was absorbed into El Camino College after Compton lost its accreditationin 2005. The City College does have some candidates among neighboring community colleges, but none of a comparable size, making such an acquisition risky for the accreditation and survival of any institutions that might attempt it.

Another option could be a “creative alliance” with a different type of institution, such as a state college or even a private college, said Robert M. Shireman, director of California Competes, a nonprofit group of business and civic leaders.