City College of San Francisco is working to retain its accreditation and avoid a shut down, reports Inside Higher Ed. But the efforts may not be enough.
Administrators and faculty members have made steady progress on 357 tasks they must complete to satisfy the Accrediting Commission for Junior and Community Colleges. The college last week tapped Arthur Q. Tyler, a veteran community college leader, as its new chancellor. And Brice Harris, the chancellor of the state’s community college system, praised City College for the changes it has made.
“It’s been an exciting and exhausting 100 days,” Harris said last week during a conference call with reporters.
For example, he said the college, which enrolls 80,000 students, has made strong steps to stabilize its precarious finances. College officials recently decided to suspend plans to build a new performing arts center. And, working with the mayor’s office, they strengthened weak fiscal controls by filling several key positions in payroll and auditing.
City College also is trying to collect an estimated $10 million in unpaid student fees.
A website, CCSFForward includes updates on each of the 357 tasks the college is supposed to complete.
For example, efforts to better track student learning outcomes is about half complete, according to the website.
Faculty unions have filed a lawsuit to block closure. The suit claims the accreditation commission had overreached its authority.
“We’re going to encourage more colleges to innovate, try new things, do things that can provide a great education without breaking the bank,” President Obama told college students in Scranton, Pennsylvania. “For example, a number of colleges across the country are using online education to save time and money for their students.”
That same day, Altius Education, an innovator in online education, learned it is under federal investigation, reports Matthew Zeitlin on BuzzFeed. The Justice Department “did not respond to an inquiry about the details of the investigation.”
The notice was the culmination of a more than two-year battle between Altius and the Higher Learning Commission, one of two members of the 118-year-old North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, which controls accreditation — the vital credential that gives college degrees value — for over 1,000 colleges and universities in 19 states. The HLC’s university backers have an obvious interest in avoiding the sort of low-cost competition that reformers, and now the president, seek.
“It struck me as highly ironic and deeply frustrating that we were trying to do exactly what Obama describes what the market needs and yet we’re getting resistance from his administration,” said Paul Freedman, who started Altius in 2004.
Altius partnered with Tiffin University, a small private college in Ohio to create Ivy Bridge College, which offered Tiffin associate degrees to online students planning to transfer to four-year institutions. Tiffin controlled the academics, while Altius handled marketing, technology and student services such as “personal success coaches.”
Students paid just below $10,000 a year, on average, much of it covered by federal student loans. About two-thirds transferred to two- or four-year institutions, the program’s goal.
In 2012, Ivy Bridge won a Next Generations Learning Challenges funded by the Gates Foundation.
In a 2010 accreditation review, the HLC said Ivy Bridge furthered the university’s mission and was ”an excellent strategic initiative” that “addresses an underserved population through a strong curriculum . . . and a very good online portal for program delivery.”
All that changed in late 2011. Tiffin told HLC that Ivy Bridge planned to apply for independent accreditation and become Altius University. The commission and its president, Sylvia Manning, saw “another for-profit university gaming the system,” writes Zeitlin.
Manning had launched a crusade against what she viewed as suspect partnerships between traditional universities and for-profit upstarts, and instituted new rules in 2010 to require further HLC approval of agreements between accredited schools and for-profit companies that substantially changed the nature of the school.
In a report obtained by BuzzFeed, the HLC took steps toward shutting down the experimental arrangement precisely because “student body, faculty and educational programs are not like the structures” on the campus of the brick-and-mortar university that was its partner. This difference was the entire point of Ivy Bridge, and is at the heart of Obama’s proposals.
HLC complained that Ivy Bridge had a one-year retention rate of 25 percent, “notably poor even for 2-year students.”
Ivy Bridge’s five-year graduation rate is 31 percent, compared to 18.3 percent for Ohio community colleges,according to Altius and Tiffin. The graduation-and-transfer rate — transfer is the goal for most students — is 64.1 percent, compared with 42.1 percent at community colleges.
Here’s the Ivy Bridge timeline of events.
Professors are skeptical about the quality of online courses, especially MOOCs, according to Inside Higher Ed‘s Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology.
Only one in five think “online courses can achieve learning outcomes equivalent to those of in-person courses.” However, professors who’ve taught online (30 percent of respondents) were much likelier to say online courses can be just as effective.
And while even professors who have taught online are about evenly divided on whether online courses generally can produce learning outcomes equivalent to face-to-face classes (33 percent agree, 30 percent are neutral, and 37 percent disagree), instructors with online experience are likelier than not to believe that online courses can deliver equivalent outcomes at their institutions (47 percent agree vs. 28 percent disagree), in their departments (50 percent vs. 30 percent), and in the classes they teach (56 percent vs. 29 percent).
Asked to rate factors that contribute to quality in online education, whether an online program is offered by an accredited institution tops the list for faculty members (73 percent), and about 6 in 10 say that whether an online program is offered by an institution that also offers in-person instruction is a “very important” indicator of quality. Only 45 percent say it is very important that the online education is offered for credit, and about 3 in 10 say it is very important whether the offering institution is nonprofit.
Most professors want to make sure faculty members control decision-making about MOOCs and that accreditors review their quality.
Of professors who’ve never taught an online course, 30 percent say the main reason is because they’ve never been asked.
Employers value online degrees — in certain circumstances, according to Drexel University Online.
Washington Monthly‘s 2013 college rankings include the best community colleges: Saint Paul College (MN), North Florida Community College (FL), North Dakota State College of Science (ND), Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WI) and Lawson State Community College (AL) top the list.
The Monthly relied on the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), which asks about teaching practices, student workload, interaction with faculty, and student support, and U.S. Department of Education measures of student retention and completion.
Some of the worst community colleges are in the otherwise thriving San Francisco Bay Area, writes Haley Sweetland Edwards.
City College of San Francisco is slated to lose accreditation next year because of “broken governance and fiscal mismanagement,” she writes.
If that happens, it will mark by many measures the most catastrophic implosion of a community college in our nation’s academic history. And more to the point, City College’s roughly 85,000 students, most of whom are minority or working class, will be out of luck. While they’ll be allowed to transfer with their credits, commute to another institution, or simply stick it out during the turmoil, the truth is that many won’t. They will be added instead to the roster of hundreds of thousands of students in the last decade who have enrolled in a community college in the greater San Francisco Bay Area with the hope of getting a credential or degree, of clawing their way to a better job and into the middle class, but have left school empty-handed.
Nearly all the schools in the Bay Area are bottom-feeders in the Monthly‘s community college rankings, which uses the same metrics as the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Out of 1,011 colleges rated, San Francisco City College ranked 842. In the East Bay, Laney College was 882, the College of Alameda was 971 and nearby Berkeley City College was 982. Heading south, “San Bruno’s Skyline College scored a relatively sparkling 772, but neighboring College of San Mateo, where a director of information technology was recently charged for selling the school’s computer equipment and embezzling the cash, ranked 845. Cañada College ranked 979. North of the city, the College of Marin ranked 839.
So the question here is clear: How is it that a region of the world that prides itself on its booming growth and vibrant market—on “growing the jobs and companies of the future”—presides over a system of higher education that is so broken for so many?
California’s community colleges granted only 10.6 certificates or degrees per 100 students enrolled over a three-year period, almost 40 percent worse than the national average, Edwards writes.
Funding is a problem:
Year after year, the community colleges have fallen victim to what one administrator described to me as the “Jan Brady problem”: the least “pretty” of California’s three sisters of higher education, it’s perennially “overshadowed and under-loved.”
In addition, California community colleges are “a confederacy of semiautonomous fiefdoms.” State oversight is weak. “Shared governance” laws require district boards to share power with faculty, students, administration and staff. In some districts, board meetings become “hair-pulling, mudslinging turf wars that feel a little like Robert’s Rules of Order meets Lord of the Flies.”
In places where the local leadership is good—even visionary—the colleges are quite good, too. In places where the local leadership is bad or mediocre, the colleges are truly terrible. “Some campuses have a culture of destruction and some have a culture of collaboration,” observes Utpal Goswami, who became president of the College of the Redwoods just before the school was slapped with the regional accrediting agency’s most severe sanction.
Santa Barbara City College was a co-winner of this year’s Aspen Prize. The College of Marin, which serves a similar population, “grants only about eight certificates or degrees per 100 students over a three-year period—a success rate that’s barely half of Santa Barbara’s.”
Accreditors appear to be the most lenient on two-year colleges in the North Central and Middle States, according to Education Sector. The analysis looked at two-year colleges with “a much higher default rate than we would expect based on their graduation rate,” suggesting low graduation standards and unprepared students.
Accreditation was toughest in the Western region.
Public community colleges “dominate the list of schools that are possibly too lenient in their graduation requirements,” writes Andrew Gillen, though “a disproportionate share of for-profits did not have enough data to be included.”
“The U.S. Department of Education is threatening to “limit, suspend or terminate” federal recognition of the accrediting commission that has threatened to shut down City College of San Francisco, reports EdSource Today.
In a six-page letter to Barbara Beno, president of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), the Department of Education said that the commission needed to take “immediate action” to correct four areas of non-compliance with federal regulations. The letter came in response to a 275-page complaint filed by the California Federation of Teachers over how the commission handled the accreditation review of City College.
The union, which represents the faculty and other staff at City College, charged only one faculty member served on two evaluation teams with eight and 16 members. In addition, Beno’s husband was on one of the evaluation teams, which CFT said created the appearance of a conflict of interest, and that the commission failed to provide a “detailed written report that clearly identifies any deficiencies in the institution’s compliance” with the commission’s standards.
In a statement published on its website, a statement published on its website, the commission said it was “disappointed” with the findings, and that it would make “necessary changes to appropriately address the Department’s concerns.” However, it took issue with the assertion that only one academic was represented on the evaluation team, and also said that it appeared that in another area the federal government was imposing new requirements.
In 2007, when its federal recognition came up for its five-year renewal, the ACCJC was found to be “non-compliant” with federal standards, “essentially for for not being tough enough on colleges not meeting its standards for accreditation, reports EdSource Today.
CCSF is the largest community college in California and one of the largest in the nation.
When non-profit Tiffin University partnered with for-profit Altius Education to create an online associate degree program, Ivy Bridge College was hailed as a model. Now the regional accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, has shut down the online two-year college, reports the Washington Examiner.
The online community college offered an associate degree program that promised students an automatic transfer to one of over 150 traditional four-year institutions, depending on their GPA. Thanks to the program’s termination, about 2,000 students are now scrambling to find other accredited institutions that will allow them to finish their studies.
A March 2013 HLC investigation concluded that Ivy Bridge was not sufficiently under Tiffin’s control, had low retention rates and offered “very thin” content in some online courses.
By contrast, a 2010 HLC report praised Tiffin’s partnership with Ivy Bridge, saying, ”It addresses an underserved population through a strong curriculum, efficient and effective academic support, excellent instruction, and a very good online portal for program delivery.”
Ivy Bridge’s retention rates are low compared to bricks-and-mortar four-year institutions, but significantly higher than those at Ohio community colleges, according to the Examiner.
“The cited concerns about student success are BS,” an industry source who asked for anonymity for fear of retribution from accreditors told the Examiner. “Ivy Bridge catered to traditionally underserved adult part-time students and did quite well. HLC doesn’t ask for the same ‘success’ metrics from non-profit traditional institutions,” this source said.
In October 2012, the Gates Foundation gave Altius a $300,000 grant for providing “scalable access to quality college education” through “a robust student support model, proven pedagogical methods, and groundbreaking learning technologies.”
Higher education is a government-created cartel, writes Conn Carroll in an Examiner op-ed.
Ivy Bridge’s termination “could dump cold water on the online aspirations of some colleges, particularly ones that prefer to play it safe with their regional accreditor,” observes Inside Higher Ed.
A number of California community colleges face accreditation problems, reports the Los Angeles Times. It’s not just City College of San Francisco, which will lose accreditation next year unless it wins an appeal.
This month, the accreditation commission issued warnings to Los Angeles Valley, Orange Coast and six other campuses, while lifting sanctions from West Los Angeles and Harbor colleges and seven other campuses.
Of California’s 112 community colleges, one, College of the Sequoias in the Central Valley town of Visalia, is operating under the most serious penalty — “show cause” — meaning the college is substantially out of compliance with requirements and must correct deficiencies to remain accredited. Five other colleges are on probationary status, and 13 have been given warnings.
Colleges that aren’t accredited lose eligibility for state funding and federal financial aid. Students may not be able to transfer courses.
Many educators and others are questioning why so many California community colleges are struggling to maintain standards. A 2012 Cal State Sacramento research paper found that 62 institutions were on some form of sanction over the last decade and that the percentage of sanctions is increasing.
The state’s budget crisis, which led many public colleges to cut staff and slash programs, is one factor, said education experts. Others say colleges are under greater pressure from federal and state authorities to improve student retention and graduation rates.
California’s community college system is the largest in the nation, with 2.4 million students enrolled each year.
City College of San Francisco will lose accreditation on July 31, 2014 — unless a special trustee appointed this week can resolve financial and governance problems, reports the Los Angeles Times. With 85,000 students at multiple campuses, CCSF is one of the nation’s largest two-year institutions. Special trustee Robert Agrella, former president of Santa Rosa Junior College, effectively will replace the school’s elected governing board.
City College will appeal the decision, said interim CCSF Chancellor Thelma Scott-Skillman.
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges voted to revoke accreditation because City College had fully addressed just two of the commission’s 14 major recommendations and corrected only a few of the many deficiencies cited, the commission said in a statement. College officials tried to satisfy the commission, but “likened the effort to changing tires on a speeding car,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
College officials unilaterally cut pay and entered into battle with angry faculty in a labor dispute that has yet to be resolved.
They reorganized the management structure against the will of department chairs. To fix the college’s tangled decision-making structure, college trustees also dismantled a decades-long system of faculty leadership over the strong objections of employees.
The trustees also eliminated a multiheaded hydra of 46 committees that often served to obstruct and control decision-making. They also pumped up reserves and established a nine-year fiscal plan.
“Essentially, the loss of accreditation would be the death penalty for City College, said California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris in videotaped remarks. Students wouldn’t be able to transfer credits or qualify for financial aid and state funding would be cut off. “We simply cannot allow that to happen.”
The decision was “outrageous,” said faculty union president Alisa Messer, an English instructor. City College was making progress, she told the Chronicle of Higher Education. Faculty governance ensured cuts were made outside the classroom, she said. The college’s choices “were a reflection of our San Francisco values.”
But the faculty protected “an abundance of noncredit courses, which employ faculty members but generate less revenue,” according to Raymond R. White, an instructor in biology who is critical of the union.
(Robert) Shireman, a former top official in the U.S. Education Department, said the City College’s broad course catalog in part reflects its unusual role as a designated provider of adult education in San Francisco, a function handled in most cities by the elementary and secondary schools.
But over all, he said, the union has been part of a divisive leadership structure at City College, in which faculty members have been overly fearful of community colleges’ focusing too tightly on job training. Some faculty members have suggested that is (accreditation commission chair Barbara) Beno’s real agenda, with the commission part of a conservative strategy to narrow the mission of publicly financed education.
Beno publicly supported a new California law that gives registration priority to students who are progressing toward transfer to a four-year institution or a vocational credential. City College faculty members oppose the law. “A lot of our students don’t fit that narrow path, that narrow definition of what a lot of people think students are,” said Wendy S. Kaufmyn, an engineering instructor.
Broad missions need to be financed, said Shireman. “There are broader discussions about the extent to which community colleges can do just whatever they want whenever they want, with taxpayer money, versus having some method of prioritizing what to fund and what not to fund,” he said.