Students walk on the main City College of San Francisco campus. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
San Francisco’s beleaguered City College on Friday (January 13) received full accreditation, according to supporters. The school has struggled for years with financial problems and declining enrollment stemming from the clouds hanging over its status.
In a Facebook post, gay City College trustee Tom Temprano said, “City College’s accreditation has been re-affirmed for seven years! The long, hard fight is finally over. With the dark cloud cast over the college finally lifted I’m excited to get to work creating an even better City College for our students.”
Gay Trustee Alex Randolph said in a post that the decision is “Big wonderful news. I’m so proud of everyone at CCSF that worked hard and pushed back to get this done!”
In a letter to interim City College Chancellor Susan Lamb Friday, Interim Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges President Richard Winn said, “On behalf of the commission, I wish to express our appreciation for the significant scope and quality of the work that City College of San Francisco undertook to meet the requirements of accreditation, prepare for institutional self-evaluation, and support the work of the external evaluation team.
“The commission encourages the college’s continued work to ensure educational quality and to support student success,” Winn added. “Accreditation and peer review are most effective when institutions and the ACCJC work together to focus on student outcomes and continuous quality improvement in higher education. Thank you for sharing the values and goals of accreditation.”
City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who successfully sued the ACCJC in court, issued a statement Friday.
“City College is part of the fabric of San Francisco. It provides hope, community, and opportunity to anyone who needs it,” Herrera said. “I’m happy we were able to do our part to help keep the school open, and I’m thrilled this vital institution will now be able to serve its students and our city for generations to come.”
Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), a longtime supporter of City College, said Friday that the community’s “collective nightmare” is over.
“Our collective nightmare about the viability of City College is over. Tens of thousands of students in San Francisco can finally rejoice and enroll into City College classes with confidence,” Speier said. “It’s been a long and hard-fought battle by a large coalition of students, educators, and elected officials who recognize how essential City College is to a healthy San Francisco. The college has a sterling record of preparing students for good and well-paying jobs that it can now continue without the fear of having its doors slammed shut. This is a victory for the entire city.”
The college board is still facing a host of critical issues over the next six months, foremost of which is now encouraging more students to enroll and hiring a permanent chancellor.
Today’s news is a huge win for the campus as the ACCJC had threatened to revoke City College’s accreditation. Due to fierce backlash from lawmakers in California and Washington, D.C., the ACCJC placed City College on special restoration status to give it time to address its compliance issues that were first flagged five years ago.
City College received an early Christmas present when news broke that the ACCJC’s embattled president, Barbara Beno, had been placed on administrative leave and that the U.S. Department of Education was pushing back its decision to withdraw federal recognition of the ACCJC itself until next month.
Another focus will be selecting a new, permanent chancellor; the trustees are expected to make a decision by July 1 and have encouraged Lamb to apply.
Once City College is assured of its accreditation, Randolph told the Bay Area Reporter weeks before the accreditation decision, increasing enrollment would be another “huge focus for the board of trustees.”
Enrollment at City College has fallen precipitously, by 33-plus percent, since 2012 due to the ongoing fight over its accreditation, and its state funding is facing a $35 million cut this year as special stabilization money to help offset the enrollment declines is phased out.
During fall editorial board meetings with the B.A.R. Temprano and bisexual trustee Shanell Williams both flagged boosting enrollment as at the top of their agenda as it will positively impact the college’s finances going forward. They identified building stronger ties with the city’s public school system as well as local businesses as part of the strategy they would pursue to see an uptick in enrollment.
“We need a much stronger plan to increase the number of students,” said Temprano. “It can’t be we lost 30 percent of our students so we are cutting 30 percent of our classes.”
With the legalization of recreational marijuana use in California, Temprano pointed to the expected boom in the cannabis industry as an area that City College could focus on with new class offerings.
“We are the kind of city that should be thinking out of the box on that,” he said.
Williams suggested City College could do more to attract business professionals who want to advance their education as well as people looking to learn English by offering more courses on weekends and online as a way to bolster enrollment. She also echoed the calls made by other trustees to see City College once again be the go to place to educate city employees who require ongoing training.
“The business community enrollment dropped off because of the accreditation issue. We have to pick it back up,” said Williams, who attended City College and served in the student trustee position on the board.
The college’s finances will also continue to be front and center for the board this year. News broke last month that the college district owes the state $39 million because there are no records verifying instructors taught all of the students they claim to have in online classes from 2011 to 2014. College leaders had flagged the issue with state education officials several years ago, noted Randolph, and the local board has been given 10 years to pay back the money.
“We are negotiating with the state on what our options are,” said Randolph, who added that, “in the past the state did not penalize colleges that are self-reporting problems.”
Also a top priority will be working with City Hall to implement free City College for San Francisco residents, which voters adopted as policy in the fall election. The mayor and the Board of Supervisors, facing their own budget deficit this year, are fighting over how much money will be allocated to turn the policy into reality. The supervisors have called for $9 million to cover the fall semester, with Lee indicating he prefers spending $500,000 this fiscal year and $4.25 million annually going forward.
At their inaugural 2017 board meeting this week, the supervisors reaffirmed their support for making City College free for San Francisco residents enrolled full time starting this fall semester.
“The whole free City College is going to capture a lot of working adults,” Williams had told the B.A.R.