Major Twist in CCSF Accreditation Crisis: DOE Threatens Accrediting Agency

I have recently described the seven-year accrediting crisis that City College of San Francisco (CCSF) faces as well as a summary of the dissenting voices.

Now it’s time to be petty.

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We are now seeing just the intervention that I  predicted one month ago. Per Inside Higher Ed today:

City College of San Francisco’s regional accreditor is now in the same existential bind as the college, having been told by its overseer to fix several problems, pronto, or risk being stripped of power.

The U.S. Department of Education on Wednesday notified the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges that it is out of compliance in several areas related to its sanctioning of City College. The commission must take “immediate steps” to avert the suspension or termination of its federal recognition as an accrediting body, according to a letter from the department.

What this development, which stunned many in California, means for the fate of City College is less clear. Most involved parties said they were still absorbing the letter and its ramifications.

The DOE directly responded to the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) complaints about the process itself – not the actual findings and whether CCSF was in compliance. As can be read in the letter, the DOE listed 4 issues that ACCJC must address.

  1. The agency does not have a policy for the on-site evaluation teams. The issue is that the teams were administrator heavy.
  2. The agency does not have a policy on conflict-of-interest. The issue is that the spouse of the ACCJC president was on the evaluation team, and this could bias the commission to favor the team’s findings over other voices.
  3. The agency letters (see post on history of warnings) did not clearly differentiate issues that indicated the college was out of compliance from issues which were mere recommendations.
  4. The agency’s use of the word “recommendation” was not clear. One one hand, ACCJC gave strong language for correction, but they did not start the two-year clock on resolution until the agency formally sanctioned the school. The policy is not clear on when the time period starts.

Note that the DOE did not address the CCSF findings, but rather they accepted the CFT complaints about technicalities in the accrediting review process.

Rather than give ACCJC the normal 12 months to fix their internal policies, the DOE “determined that in order to avoid initiation of an action to limit, suspend or terminate ACCJC’s recognition [authorizing it as accrediting agency], ACCJC must take immediate steps to correct the areas of non-compliance identified in this letter”.

Given my accurate prediction one month ago, I’ll make two more predictions:

  • This is a complete victory for the CFT, and the DOE has taken sides in this dispute. I predict ACCJC will be forced to reverse the CCSF accrediting decision as “a conditional reprieve on appeal” as noted by Community College Dean. At the very least, CCSF will get another two years to comply.
  • This action will enable the federal government, through DOE regulations, to dramatically step up its involvement in accrediting policy. I predict new DOE-driven demands on revisions to accrediting policies for all seven regional agencies within the next 12 months.

Update 8/21: CCSF formally asked the commission to reverse its decision, according to a story at the San Francisco Chronicle.

City College of San Francisco asked a commission on Tuesday to reverse its devastating decision to revoke the school’s accreditation next year – but has been told not to share any details of its request with the public.

And, unwilling to upset those who hold its fate in their hands, the college made its request without citing mistakes the commission made when it evaluated the college that were recently identified by the U.S. Department of Education.

The news disappointed faculty, who had hoped the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges would be forced to withdraw its decision to revoke City College’s ability to operate after the Department of Education upheld complaints by the faculty union last week. The Department found the commission had violated four regulations in its scrutiny of the large college – including giving the appearance of a conflict of interest when it let the husband of commission President Barbara Beno help evaluate the college.

The Department of Education said its findings could be used as part of the college’s appeal of the accrediting decision.

Unlike a court of law, however, accrediting appeals are made to the same commission that issued the original verdict. So the college considered a complaint about the commission too risky.

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About Phil Hill

Phil is a consultant and industry analyst covering the educational technology market primarily for higher education. He has written for e-Literate since Aug 2011. For a more complete biography, view his profile page.
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One Response to Major Twist in CCSF Accreditation Crisis: DOE Threatens Accrediting Agency

  1. John Kline says:

    With all the talk of change in higher ed – especially as a result of technology and online – looks like maybe the more important battles will be in the areas of accreditation and credentialling.