The college continued to get worse, with the added financial pressure of the Great Recession, and when the commission said it was poised to hand down the death penalty a couple years ago, students fled the state’s largest community college and employers, potential employers, students, parents of students and community business people who make money from the school being in their midst braced for disaster.
Politicians of the highest order, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, fulminated against the commission. A judge blocked the July 31 revocation date and scheduled a court hearing in October. And the U.S. Department of Education challenged the accreditation of the accrediting commission.
And still, it wouldn’t back down. Until it did, on Wednesday.
The commission announced that, upon review, it would take the advice of the Education Department and rewrite its rules to allow colleges to apply for accreditation restoration before their revocation date and let them take two years to comply with accepted standards.
Most everyone has acknowledged the college has struggled to do well by its 80,000 students and that the commission’s assessment of the school last year in a 66-page report was harsh, but not totally off the mark. The report recommended the school add more classified staff and administrators, more efficiently operate and maintain existing facilities, secure its technology infrastructure, manage its finances better to avoid “excessive” short-term borrowing, improve assessments of student learning and achievement, and do a better job of reporting its financial information.
The criticism came after the school had already closed two campuses, laid off more than 40 counselors and support staff, and cut faculty salaries 7%. School supporters argued that progress had been made in fixing the problems and that the harm done by closing the school would be catastrophic.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who sued the commission to block the de-accreditation, added one more argument:
“The accrediting body's political agenda—shared by conservative advocacy organizations, for-profit colleges and student lender interests—represents a significant departure from the abiding ‘open access’ mission repeatedly affirmed by the California legislature and pursued by San Francisco's Community College District since it was first established.”
Herrera said the commission’s action was meant to “restrict the mission of community colleges by focusing on degree completion to the detriment of vocational, remedial and non-credit education.” The city attorney said his lawsuit, which challenged the validity of the loss of accreditation, will continue.
Until this year, community colleges suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in annual budget cuts that forced them to offer fewer classes, charge higher fees, enlarge class sizes, offer fewer services and cut corners where they shouldn’t be cutting.
S.F. City College should benefit from Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed 2014-15 budget increases, but it will probably continue to be the poster child for a community college system that is floundering in the face of diminished support and a clouded future.