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.”
Reorganizing and coordinating resources can raise college enrollment — especially among African-American and Latino students, concludes a five-year pilot program. The Postsecondary Success Collaborative, which operated in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Miami-Dade County, “asked participants to coordinate academic programs, align K-12 curriculums with postsecondary and workforce requirements, and engage community groups,” reports Inside Higher Ed.
An independent analysis by the OMG Center for Collaborative Learning found the initiative bucked national enrollment trends. From 2009 to 2012, 12 percent more students from the initiative’s target high schools enrolled in college. Among black and Latino students at high schools that were deemed to have strongly implemented the initiative’s recommendations, that number rose to 39 percent, boosted by a 69 percent increase among black students in Miami-Dade County. Among students who enrolled in college, the analysis also found a 16 percent increase in students who continued as sophomores.
In Miami, an advisory board started with “marathon” financial aid sessions, funding field trips to universities across the state and math courses to prepare students for college work.
In Philadelphia, two similar advisory boards found that the high school English curriculum was out of alignment with the kind of writing skills expected from college freshmen.
. . . the advisory boards created “instructional rounds,” where high school teachers and college professors visited each another’s classrooms to better understand what was being taught in them.
“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.
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.
“The Trombone Clause says that in good times, when we have good budgets from the state and better economics, we can share that largess with our employees,” said Larry Kamer, spokesperson for CCSF. “But it retracts in bad times, which is where we are now.”
The American Federation of Teachers argues conditions haven’t been met to trigger the trombone.
City College has until March 15 to prove its financial viability to the Accreditation Commission, which criticized CCSF’s pay structure.
Faced with a $15 million deficit and the threat of losing accreditation, City College of San Francisco‘s board has voted to “dismantle a decades-long system of faculty leadership,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Returning more than 60 department chairs to full-time teaching will save $2 million and streamline governance, trustees said.
“The accrediting commission made it clear as recently as yesterday that they are concerned we are not moving quickly enough,” interim Chancellor Pamila Fisher told the board.
City College has until March 15 to prove it should to stay in business. The accrediting commission has said one major problem is the college’s byzantine and costly governance structure – unparalleled among California community colleges.
More than 60 faculty members earn extra pay as department chairs. They are released from teaching to do administrative work, such as scheduling, that other colleges assign to deans. City College employs 11 deans. The chairs have their own labor union, work 10 months rather than 12, as deans do, and must have their classes covered by other faculty.
Trustees also voted unanimously to close a preschool to save $84,000 a year, and to end summer hours at three other college-run child care centers. “City College spends $700,000 a year on the centers that serve as laboratories for child-development majors and as places where parents can learn alternatives to corporal punishment,” the Chronicle reports.
The board hired a “special trustee” who will have veto power on accreditation-related decisions and agreed to start collecting fees at registration. Uncollected fees cost the college district $400,000 a year.
City College of San Francisco will “hire new leaders, lay off faculty, close and lease out properties, and make enrichment classes a low priority” to remain accredited, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
One new approach also reflects an astonishing reality: City College has allowed students to take classes without paying the required enrollment fees, causing the college to lose at least $400,000 a year.
Pamila Fisher, the interim chancellor, previewed thecollege’s plan for addressing 14 major fiscal and managerial deficiencies identified in July by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. CCSF could lose accreditation, if it doesn’t meet its goal or make measurable progress by the commission’s March 15 deadline.
One major change already approved by the trustees is to shift City College’s main mission away from free enrichment classes like music appreciation and memoir writing, and focus instead on preparing students for transfer to a university, earning an associate degree, acquiring career skills and learning to speak English.
The plan calls for eliminating paid sabbaticals to save $800,000 a year and imposing across-the-board salary cuts of 1 percent to save $1.57 million.
City College of San Francisco could lose accreditation and close this spring, unless “those in charge make the tough decisions needed to right the ship,” writes Robert Shireman, director of California Competes: Higher Education for a Strong Economy, in the San Francisco Chronicle. But who’s in charge?
. . . CCSF has been part of a grand experiment in democratic management forced upon community colleges by an obscure rule adopted 22 years ago. While the original motivation for the shared-governance requirement was understandable, even laudable, in hindsight we can see that empowering everyone leaves no one in charge. California’s community colleges are capsizing as a result.
In the 1980s, “junior” college faculty wanted the status and power of university professors, Shireman writes. They got much more. The state Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges ordered community college trustees and chancellors “to defer to academic senates on a wide range of topics.”
CCSF went all-out in implementing the new state requirement. Today, an Office of Shared Governance manages 46 committees that develop policies that feed into a faculty Executive Council. Further, a petition process can put any issue to a full faculty vote. The CCSF Board of Trustees, elected by the voters of San Francisco to run the college, is required by the state to rubber-stamp the Shared Governance decisions (or indecision) or risk going to court to prove that the disagreement was “exceptional” and “compelling.” The result of this blurring of responsibility is predictable: Decisions don’t get made, no one is held accountable, and everyone blames everyone else.
Two independent reviews have offered stinging critiques of CCSF’s processes. The accreditor found “a veil of distrust among the governance groups” instead of clear decision-making roles. A fiscal review found the college paralyzed by a culture that undermines good management, preventing it from making the decisions that would stave off bankruptcy. Decision-making “appears to have been driven more by power, influence and political whim, than reason, logic and fairness.”
While a few exceptional chancellors have worked with faculty to adapt to difficult times, most community colleges are “stumbling along” without strong, clear leadership, Shireman writes.
The state board needs to end shared governance, argues. More urgently, the CCSF academic senate “should formally step aside to put the duly elected trustees squarely in charge so we all can hold them fully accountable.” A sinking ship needs a captain, not a committee.