Holding City College’s Accreditors Accountable

For nearly three years, San Franciscans have united to save City College of San Francisco (CCSF), after the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) made its fateful decision to shut it down.

Despite the financial and governance challenges that CCSF has experienced in recent years, no one can overstate the significance of this institution to our city.

San Francisco’s Budget and Legislative Analyst recently confirmed that the jobs secured by the 2011-12 CCSF graduates have skills matching employer demand and is valued at approximately $123 million per year. The average median wage for these jobs is $11,100 more than that of positions requiring only a high school education. The overall impact of CCSF to its students, to the community, and to the social and economic fabric of San Francisco is incalculable.

That is why along with so many others in San Francisco and around the state, I want City College to return to local control and improve the accreditation process of our community colleges. While I am a firm believer in an accreditation process that confirms the fiscal and educational soundness of our public and private educational institutions, allegations against the ACCJC — the currently recognized accrediting agency for all California Community Colleges — are too serious to ignore.

The lawsuit brought by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera against the ACCJC over the decision to terminate CCSF’s accreditation centered on major conflicts of interest within the accrediting body and misinterpretation of federal policies. Last year, our California State Auditor concluded that inconsistent application of the accreditation process combined with a general lack of transparency in decision making on the part of the ACCJC have undermined the meaning of accreditation for California’s community colleges.

The State Auditor’s report highlighted the opportunity of the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges to amend state regulations to allow other accrediting agencies, besides the ACCJC, to perform this function for our community colleges. While the California Community Colleges Board of Governors has now taken that step, there are remaining broken pieces to fix to improve the accreditation process.

That is why I introduced Assembly Bill 404 to tackle another piece of this puzzle – the lack of coordination and communication between state and federal agencies in the accreditation process to hold an accrediting agency accountable. While California requires its institutions to be accredited, the federal government is responsible for recognizing which agencies should serve as accreditors.

AB 404, which will be heard today by the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee, would establish a pathway for our community colleges to collect feedback on the work of their accrediting agency and to transmit this information to the federal government. College administrators, trustees, faculty, staff, students, and others would be able to communicate how they perceive a federally-recognized accreditor is complying with federal law in the performance of its duties.

I am pleased to work with the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, the principal organizational sponsor of AB 404, on a better means for communication, transparency and accountability in the accreditation process. The current situation has left CCSF with a long and difficult road toward recovery.

We must learn from this experience and do all we can to avoid similar circumstances in the future anywhere in California. Our community college system is too important to remain silent during any federal review process with significant local impact.

Every piece of the puzzle helps. AB 404 is a key part of an overall solution that ensures a fair and robust accreditation process – and a strong, vibrant City College of San Francisco for years to come.

David Chiu is an Assemblymember representing San Francisco.

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