A little-known clause in the bylaws of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges apparently allows for a fresh review of the ruling that could force City College of San Francisco to close in July.
The window for review is small and the scope is narrow, but college officials are hoping they can present enough new evidence of reform to persuade the commission to reconsider CCSF's effective death sentence.
"It's an opening," said Paul Feist, spokesman for the California Community Colleges chancellor, Brice Harris. "It provides an opportunity to look at new evidence that would likely cause the commission to reverse its decision in the appeal. It mainly centers around finances."
CCSF is currently seeking a review of the commission's decision to withdraw the school's accreditation in July. City College was cited for numerous flaws including governance and finance.
After receiving the commission's sternest form of sanction in July 2012, college officials worked on changing their mission, adopting a new administrative structure and implementing ways to track students' learning. But ultimately, the commission concluded that the reforms were insufficient for CCSF to retain its accreditation, which allows the school and its students to receive federal and state funding.
Up to this point, commission bylaws seemed to suggest that the ruling could only be reconsidered under specific criteria that would require CCSF to demonstrate that it submitted erroneous information, that commission evaluators made errors or displayed bias or prejudice, or that the commission's final ruling was not supported by the evidence. That review process started last month when the college submitted a formal request for review.
But if the commission denies CCSF's request to review the ruling, school officials can then file an appeal in which new information can be presented on behalf of the 85,000-student college. Under commission rules, any such information must be new and not available at the time of review. It also must bear "materially on the financial deficiencies identified by the Commission."
If the evidence does warrant a review, the appeal hearing would be postponed until a newly appointed committee rules on the new evidence, the bylaws indicate. If the new evidence is strong enough, it could reverse the original sanction. If it's not, the original appeal hearing can continue.
That suggests that CCSF has until the date of an appeal hearing to bring its finances into order. Such work has already begun. Before the commission pulled CCSF's accreditation, the college's board of trustees approved an eight-year budget plan designed to build up the school's depleted financial reserves and bring its personnel costs down to 87 percent of overall school expenses by settling with all but two CCSF unions.
Robert Shireman, executive director of the nonprofit educational advocate California Competes who has been monitoring the effort to save CCSF, said if a college has to go through an appeal, the institution rarely comes out on top.
Officials at City College and in the Mayor's Office "seem to have confidence they have the flexibility," said Shireman, who previously worked for the U.S. Department of Education. "But they are pretty strict with their rules."