There is a grim date looming on the horizon for City College of San Francisco: July 31, 2014. That day, which is a little more than a year from now, is when the community college would lose its accreditation and potentially close — if appeals are unsuccessful.
The closure of City College, which serves about 85,000 students, would be catastrophic for San Francisco, and local and state leaders need to do everything within their power to steer the institution in the right direction to keep its accreditation. Everyone also needs to take seriously the threat of City College closing.
Too many locally elected officials have had flippant attitudes about the possibility of the college being forced to close ever since the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges handed down a harsh ruling of “show cause,” which meant the college needed to prove why it should stay open.
It is true that City College is the largest community college in the state and that it has excellent programs, including many for job training and continuing education. But report after report about the financial situation and the structural deficiencies in the college's organization show that the foundation upon which the programs sit needs to be rebuilt.
Razing an entire building to fix a foundation is not needed, but it does require experts, and that leadership doesn't exist in The City. That is why it is encouraging that the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office will be naming a special trustee to lead CCSF as soon as today. Critics may want to argue that this move is stripping the local power away from the college, and that local interests will be lost. But it was local interests and local control that put the college on the brink of closure.
There are myriad reasons why the structure of CCSF's decision is not working, and it is clear that the college needs more prudent fiscal responsibility. For example, until just recently the college did not have a breakdown of how many students each of its campuses served and how much money each one made. Without the data showing who is being served by every program and every class, the college will not be able to properly steer its limited resources to where they are needed. CCSF has long been everything for everyone, no matter what the cost was — a practice that cannot continue.
Local leaders should weigh in on the necessity of the programs that serve low- and middle-income San Franciscans, since this is the population that would be disproportionately affected by City College's closure. But unlike before, when there was a muddled decision-making body, the arguments for keeping classes and programs need to be empirical and logical, not sentimental.
The changes that need to be made to keep City College open will be deep and painful for a small population of workers, teachers and students. But the only alternative now is trying to save everyone and instead losing everything.