Police are investigating a $200,000 financial aid scam at the San Francisco Bay Area’s College of Marin, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Twenty-three people are suspected of posing as online students to collect Pell Grants.
Two faculty members noticed that “several students in their online classes shared the same address and phone number, weren’t participating in online discussions and withdrew soon after financial aid had been disbursed,” reports the Chronicle.
California community colleges give fee waivers to Pell-eligible students and send the entire grant — up to $5,730 — to the student to cover books, living expenses and commuting. “Pell runners” disappear as soon as the check clears. It’s especially easy to scam online classes.
Three men posing as students pleaded guilty in February to stealing more than $1 million in financial aid received through City College of San Francisco, Chabot College in Hayward and Ohlone College in Fremont from 2007 and 2011.
. . . A ringleader often recruits fake students who allow their Social Security numbers and other personal information to be used to enroll in courses and to apply for federal aid in exchange for a cut of the cash.
Colleges don’t have to repay the stolen money, but loans to scammers — which aren’t going to be repaid — will increase their student default rate.
Fraud rings steal as much as $1 billion a year, estimates the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General.
In the case involving City College of San Francisco, Chabot and Ohlone, the three men created 104 financial aid accounts for fake students, according to a federal indictment filed in the U.S. District Court in Oakland in August 2013.
“Are accrediting bodies toothless jellyfish, or jackbooted thugs?” asks Matt Reed on Confessions of a Community College Dean @insidehighered.
Accreditation agencies enforce a producers’ cartel, argues Andrew Kelly in Forbes. It’s hard for new providers to get approval if they don’t resemble their predecessors, “but once you’re in the club, it’s remarkably rare to get kicked out.”
But City College of San Francisco‘s accrediting panel tried to shut down the long-established college, writes Reed. Judges and legislators came to the rescue.
“The California legislature passed unanimously (!) a bill to require the statewide community college accreditor to report directly to the legislature,” writes Reed. “The motive was to bring the accreditor to heel.”
If the accrediting agency is really captured by incumbents, why is it giving incumbents a hard time? Alternately, if it has an anti-incumbent agenda, as some have suggested, why? If nothing else, the seeming “rogue” status of ACCJC calls into question the idea that peer review is necessarily clubby and insular. In this case, it seems almost hostile. The very independence from its sponsors that Kelly sees as an impossible dream strikes the California legislature as a clear and present danger.
. . . Accreditors can create barriers to entry, but they also force a certain honesty on providers who rely on federal financial aid. (I’ll go farther. If regional accreditors are such lapdogs, why do most for-profits avoid them in favor of so-called “national” accreditors? And if regional accreditors are so clubby that nobody can get in, how is it that Phoenix and DeVry did?)
Accreditors have worked positive and professionally with Southern New Hampshire University’s competency-based College for America, “despite the very real threat that a competency-based degree” poses to established colleges, writes Reed, who works in New England.
City College of San Francisco, fighting to remain accredited, received a boost this week with news that all 15 members of the accreditation commission’s evaluation team recommended a lesser penalty.
The recommendation for probation was revealed in a documented filed in connection with a lawsuit against the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Instead the commission told CCSF to “show cause” why it should retain accreditation in 2012. A year later, it moved to revoke accreditation, which would have made students ineligible for financial aid.
Last month, the commission gave CCSF two more years to improve its management and governance.
The panel, which wields enormous power over all community and junior colleges in California, has come under increasing scrutiny from educators, teachers unions and state and federal lawmakers who contend that it lacks transparency, operates with little oversight and relies too little on students’ academic progress when meting out sanctions
. . . U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) has criticized the panel for “potential intimidation and overzealousness,” and a state bill is pending that would require more “transparency, accountability and due process” in accreditation reviews.
The California Federation of Teachers and San Francisco City Atty. Dennis Herrera, meanwhile, have separately filed suit against the commission alleging political bias and conflict of interest.
Trustee Rafael Mandelman called the revelation “completely outrageous and unforgivable,” reports the Times. “This should remove any doubt that this is an irresponsible group of people who cannot be trusted to accredit our community colleges.”
City College of San Francisco has dodged a closure order and won two more years to improve, writes Kevin Carey, who directs education policy for the New America Foundation, in the New York Times. With 77,000 students, CCSF proved to be “too big to fail,” despite “chronic financial and organizational mismanagement.”
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges had set a July closure data, but faced a “fierce political backlash . . . challenging its right to exist,” writes Carey. The closure threat apparently has passed.
If accreditors can’t hold a college responsible, he asks, who will?
California’s 112 community colleges are run by locally elected boards which are required by law to share decision-making power with faculty unions.
At City College, the faculty dominated, said the accrediting commission. The college hired many more tenured professors than it could afford.
The accreditor, an independent, nonprofit body, can block federal financial aid by denying accreditation. “But like an army with no weapons other than thermonuclear bombs, its power is too potent and blunt to use,” writes Carey.
Accreditors are also financed and managed as membership organizations of colleges. Other colleges contribute volunteers to conduct site visits and evaluations, and college administrators are generally loath to condemn peers at other institutions publicly, particularly since their turn for review will eventually come. As a result, only the absolute worst-case colleges even approach facing meaningful sanctions. Simple mediocrity is ignored.
Politicians generally take a hands-off approach to higher education. While many big-city mayors have staked their careers on turning around troubled K-12 school systems, it is rare to see a major political effort focused on fixing dysfunctional local community college.
There’s little oversight of private nonprofit colleges, even though many “receive a vast majority of their revenue from federal financial aid,” adds Carey.
For-profit higher education has come under federal and state scrutiny. Yet Corinthian Colleges, which is closing down after multiple investigations, had not lost accreditation for any of its campuses.
On EdCentral, Ben Miller has suggestions for improving accreditation.
“In a stunning turnabout, City College of San Francisco will not be forced to close” on July 31, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The college is expected to retain accreditation under new rules proposed Wednesday by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.
The 19-member commission expects to change its rules, let City College request more time to comply with accrediting standards, and avoid what are widely viewed as the catastrophic consequences of shutting down a college of nearly 80,000 students who would have few other educational options.
CCSF will have two years to implement “new and sustained practices that meet standards of quality,” said Barbara Beno, commission president.
The commission has been under heavy political pressure to give CCSF more time to deal with management and governance problems.
Faced with losing accreditation on July 31, San Francisco City College supporters hope a proposed policy change will lead to a reprieve, reports the Los Angeles Times. However, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges won’t release details of the proposed new policy till Wednesday.
The Novato-based accrediting panel, which oversees California’s 112 community colleges, moved last year to revoke the City College of San Francisco’s accreditation, citing long-running financial and governance problems.
. . . During a presentation behind closed doors this week, systemwide Chancellor Brice Harris and City College Chancellor Arthur Q. Tyler, among others, told commission members that the college has addressed 95% of the deficiencies cited by the panel and argued for more time to meet all standards.
The accreditation crisis has turned into a highly politicized game of chicken, according to Inside Higher Ed. “Neither side is backing down while the fate of the college, its 77,000 students and even a besieged accreditor hang in the balance.”
CCSF will be able to delay losing accreditation until a lawsuit by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera is resolved. The trial is set for late October. The college also has filed an appeal.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, the minority leader in the House, threatens to close down the accrediting commission if it doesn’t give her home-district community college a break.
“ACCJC’s faulty reliance on outdated analysis of the health of City College, and its pursuit of an unworkable policy that ends state and federal funding to CCSF and puts the students and faculty in academic limbo is professionally crippling and destructive,” Pelosi said this week in a written statement, which two other Bay Area members of Congress signed. “Should this failure of leadership persist, new leadership is needed at ACCJC. The U.S. Department of Education should also consider whether to recertify ACCJC as an accrediting body.”
Commission leaders have offered to rescind the termination decision if CCSF drops its accreditation and applies as a new institution, triggering a two-year “candidacy” status.
City College of San Francisco will not lose accreditation until a legal challenge to the revocation is resolved, reports Bay Cities News. An accrediting commission had set a July 31 revocation date, after charging CCSF with mismanagement and poor governance.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera contested the revocation decision by the western regional branch of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow’s injunction will be in effect until a trial is held. A trial date will be set at the end of January.
Karnow said in a 53-page decision that the injunction was justified because of the severe harm to students, teachers and the city if the college lost accreditation and had to close.
“Those consequences would be catastrophic,” Karnow wrote.
“Without accreditation, the college would almost certainly close and about 80,000 students would either lose their educational opportunities or hope to transfer elsewhere; and for many of them, the transfer option is not realistic.
Herrera’s lawsuit and a similar lawsuit by the California Federation of Teachers charge the commission used unfair, biased or illegal procedures, was prejudiced against the college’s “open access” mission and that two evaluation teams lacked adequate representation by professors.
As Matt Reed predicted, CCSF is too big to fail.
The commission that accredits two-year colleges in California will keep its federal recognition for another year, reports Inside Higher Ed. A federal panel told the accreditor to show that it is complying with federal standards.
The accreditor, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, has been under fire for its decision this year to revoke accreditation of City College of San Francisco. Many supporters of the college — faculty unions, student advocates, and some elected officials — had been pushing for the panel to recommend the Education Department strip the accreditor of its federal recognition.
More than two dozen students, faculty members, union leaders and other supporters of City College of San Francisco testified Thursday and Friday.
The federal panel also voted to recommend another year of recognition for the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, which is under fire for how it’s handled complaints from adjuncts.
Last week’s meetings of the federal accreditation panel occurred against the backdrop of a larger debate over the future of accreditation that has begun to play out in Washington as Congress considers the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Policy makers have discussed, among other issues, whether accreditors are doing enough to promote innovation in higher education and whether they should do more to keep college affordable.
Outgoing Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter asked the panel to revisit its 2011 recommendations for improving accreditation and make new suggestions.
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.
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.”