Fair accreditation: The long arc of our successful campaign

How a rogue agency damaged colleges in Compton and San Francisco

The Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges, a private 19-member panel that oversees community colleges in California and Hawaii, has been much in the news over its threat to pull City College of San Francisco’s accreditation — a battle the union and college recently won with the January 13 news that its accreditation is fully restored for the next seven years.

But the fight started in 2005 when the ACCJC pulled the accreditation of Compton College. Only this February was the governing power of the Compton Board of Trustees finally returned.

The commission’s treatment of City College has been particularly shocking, resulting in the school losing almost a third of its enrollment. Critics have called the commission punitive, harsh, and unregulated, and the CFT has led the fight for a new accreditor.

What follows is a summary of the events and the CFT’s winning fightback campaign.

July 2005: ACCJC President Barbara Beno tells Compton College of the decision to terminate its accreditation. After an appeal, the college loses accreditation in August 2006. Compton is able to keep its doors open as a satellite campus of the neighboring El Camino College.

During the following years: CFT leaders call to national attention that the commission sanctioned colleges at a rate startlingly higher than that of other accreditation agencies, with nearly 90 percent of the sanctions in the country from 2003 to 2008, and more than half of the state’s community colleges being put under sanction since Beno became president of the commission.

June 2012: The ACCJC places City College of San Francisco on “show cause” — meaning it has to show why it should remain accredited. Going from no sanction to the highest level except closure was unprecedented — as was the amount of time City College was given to deal with addressing the issues raised — about eight months rather than the usual two years.

In the following months: The CFT launches a campaign to fight back against this arbitrary, unwarranted decision. The union challenged the commission in a process known as “third party comment,” and with the faculty union at City College, AFT Local 2121, jointly filed a 280-page complaint with both the commission and the U.S. Department of Education. CFT also filed a lawsuit, The People vs. ACCJC, (along with a lawsuit filed by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera) to get an injunction to keep City College of San Francisco open.

July 2013: ACCJC votes to terminate City College’s accreditation effective July 2014; the college and the state Board of Governors authorize a special trustee to manage the district.

January 2014: A San Francisco Superior Court judge grants an injunction to keep City College open.

June 2014: The union’s campaign led the California State Auditor to examine the ACCJC. Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama) who requested the audit, called commission President Beno the most “arrogant, condescending and dismissive individual” he had ever dealt with.

July 2014: The union secured stabilization funds in the state budget for City College to counter declining enrollment caused by the ACCJC sanctions.

August 2014: In response to the “third party comment,” the Department of Education stated that ACCJC was deficient and had violated state law and federal regulations.

September 2014: The governor signs CFT-sponsored bills requiring the ACCJC to submit biennial reports to the Legislature (AB 1942) and the state Board of Governors to set benchmarks for returning an elected board of trustees if a special trustee is appointed (AB 2087).

October 2014: The five-day trial takes place in The People vs. ACCJC, which charges that the commission “engaged in unfair and unlawful business practices in sanctioning City College,” and that “these reckless actions have already caused harm to students, faculty, and other employees of City College, and will cause much greater harm both to them and to San Francisco if the college closes.”

January 2015: The judge’s ruling from The People vs. ACCJC affirms that ACCJC broke the law in denying the college due process rights during accreditation review and orders the ACCJC to revisit its decision. A California Court of Appeals confirmed the ruling in June.

August 2015: The state Chancellor’s Task Force on Accreditation released a report criticizing the way the ACCJC does business, capped with a recommendation that California find a new accreditor. The Board of Governors directs the report to the U.S. Department of Education.

December 2015: Members travel to Washington, D.C., to speak before the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, or NACIQI, which oversees regional accreditors, about the need to remove the ACCJC and replace it with a fair and capable agency.

December 2016: Commission President Beno placed on administrative leave ahead of her expected retirement in June 2017.

January 2017: The ACCJC grants City College full accreditation for seven years.

February 2017: The state chancellor announced that the elected board of trustees of Compton College would be allowed to govern the district again, and proposed that accreditation be fully restored by 2020. Members and leaders travel to Washington, DC again to speak before NACIQI.

Going forward: The CFT continues a federal lawsuit against ACCJC, the state chancellor and Board of Governors, and its fight for a new accreditor. The U.S. Department of Education has recommended that the ACCJC retain its authority over community colleges for another 18 months despite complaints that the agency failed to meet standards, treated City College of San Francisco unfairly.NACIQI will vote on this recommendation and then it goes to the new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. 

By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter