California community college wins accreditation battle

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After five years of punitive attacks from a rogue accreditor, City College of San Francisco is finally in the clear: In a meeting Jan. 13, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges renewed CCSF's accreditation through 2024, decisively affirming that the college has met every required standard and provides a consistently high-quality education to its students.

"All of us at the college are so excited and relieved that the accreditation crisis is over," says CCSF faculty union President Tim Killikelly. "But we mustn't forget that the accreditation crisis at CCSF should never have occurred. The quality of its education was never in doubt."

CCSF students who testifiedFaculty members, chancellors and students (including those pictured above) testified against the ACCJC before the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which advises the secretary of education.

AFT Local 2121, which is CCSF's faculty union, and the California Federation of Teachers, with support from the AFT, were key players in a statewide movement to challenge not just the ACCJC's threat of disaccreditation for CCSF but also the agency's integrity, which affects community colleges under its purview throughout California. Elected officials and other education advocates joined the fight, which began in 2012. Along the way, a California court ruled that the ACCJC broke the law in four different ways when it tried to shutter CCSF. The California Legislature's Joint Legislative Audit Committee accused the ACCJC of secrecy, disproportionate sanctions and inconsistent treatment of the colleges it reviewed. And the state's community college presidents called for a new accreditor.

A U.S. Department of Education investigation led to a January 2015 sanction against the ACCJC: The department gave the agency one year to correct 15 violations of federal accreditation standards or be stripped of its authority. Chief among the complaints were secretive operations, lack of accountability, and an emphasis on internal college governance rather than on measures that promote student success and academic rigor.

Meanwhile, CCSF suffered with the looming possibility of losing its accreditation. Enrollment dropped by nearly a third. Education advocates were especially worried about shutting out underprivileged students who had few education alternatives; those still enrolled wondered whether their programs would be canceled and felt the impact when student services were decreased due to budget cuts.

"After five years weathering needless sanctions and punitive attacks from their rogue accreditor, the brave students and faculty at City College of San Francisco can finally breathe freely again," AFT President Randi Weingarten said after the ruling. "Faculty can get back to teaching and students to learning, without the specter of institutional decimation and devastation hanging over their heads."

"This is great news for the students, faculty, staff and city of San Francisco, all of whom depend on that outstanding college for access to an affordable higher education," says CFT President Joshua Pechthalt, who is an AFT vice president. "This successful outcome could not have happened, however, without the continued pressure of AFT Local 2121, the CFT, national AFT and other allies who have advocated for the college since the disastrous and illegal ACCJC decision of 2012. It is also clear that new leadership at the commission has made a difference."

"We fought hard against the outrageous and unfair conduct of the ACCJC, and we are thrilled we have finally won this dispute," Weingarten adds. "It's far past time that this great college return to its mission of helping students pursue their dreams and aspirations."

[Virginia Myers and CFT/AFT press releases]