Capitol Alert

California community colleges embark on path to new accreditor

Ivania Areas, 18, waits for the doors to open at the American River College Natomas Center on August 26, 2013.
Ivania Areas, 18, waits for the doors to open at the American River College Natomas Center on August 26, 2013. The Sacramento Bee file

City College of San Francisco was saved from closure last year when it was given two more years to come into compliance with governance and financial standards, but the fallout from that clash with the regional accreditor continues.

The California community college system’s governing board on Monday approved a resolution to begin searching for a replacement for the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges. The organization, which regulates two-year schools in California, Hawaii and American territories in the Pacific, has been under fire for an inconsistent, oblique and overly punitive accreditation process.

Monday’s resolution affirms a vote taken last week at a meeting of the presidents and chancellors of California’s 113 community colleges, who overwhelmingly expressed a desire to adopt a “new model of accrediting.”

Brian King, chancellor of the Los Rios Community College District, said in an interview that the recent development of bachelor’s degree pilot programs, transfer degrees to California State University and new pathways to the University of California has highlighted the need for a different accreditor with a broader mission. The ACCJC has not received permission from federal authorities to sanction four-year programs.

“We’re working so closely with our four-year colleges and universities,” King said. “Accrediting should not be an exception to that.”

But the move has largely been driven by the ongoing feud over City College of San Francisco. Faculty, students and public officials were infuriated when ACCJC terminated City College’s accreditation in July 2013, a mere eight months after it was first cited for numerous leadership and fiscal issues. Lawsuits followed and a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education has put the commission’s own accreditation at risk.

Because the transition to a new accreditor could take years, Monday’s resolution asserts that the colleges will work in the meantime with ACCJC on improvements to its accrediting process, such as “enhanced financial transparency” and “better communication with member institutions.” It also leaves open the possibility that they could choose to stick it out with the commission – a prospect that a dozen speakers at Monday’s meeting urged the community college governing board not to consider.

“They’ve done way too much damage,” Wendy Kaufmyn, an engineering instructor at City College of San Francisco, said during the public comment period, “and they continue to be oblivious, or perhaps just indifferent, to the damage they’ve done.”

Losing the California community colleges, which make up the vast majority of its business, would put ACCJC on the verge of oblivion. In a statement, President Barbara A. Beno said the commission is “carefully reviewing” the resolution and is “prepared to consider recommendations from a group of California community colleges and make appropriate improvements to our accreditation standards and processes.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff