San Francisco's only community college will remain accredited for at least two more years in a reprieve announced Wednesday to keep the institution's doors open for nearly 80,000 students.
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges granted City College of San Francisco the additional time to resolve financial, academic and management deficiencies that had threatened to close it.
The commission, a private body based in the Marin County city of Novato, approved the plan at a three-day meeting last week after considering a new evaluation of the two-year college.
"This is an important step forward for CCSF," commission Chairman Steven Kinsella said in a statement. "Although the evaluation team found 32 areas of continuing noncompliance, ACCJC's judgment is that the college, assuming a concerted and good faith effort, has the ability to resolve these issues within the two-year period."
The extension comes as a San Francisco judge considers a lawsuit filed by the city attorney accusing the accreditation panel of acting unfairly against the college.
The commission's latest action was "welcome news," said City College spokesman Jeff Hamilton.
"It's an acknowledgment of the extraordinary progress we've made as an institution," Hamilton said. "We're very much looking forward to continuing the work we've done to complete the transformation of City College."
But some college defenders criticized the commission's action.
Under a so-called restoration status, City College will be reviewed again in 2017, but the commission can still revoke accreditation without appeal if the college does not fully comply with standards.
That requirement is stricter than that imposed on other colleges under sanction and creates a double standard, said Tim Killikelly, a City College political science instructor and president of the faculty union.
"I don't feel any relief that the restoration status was granted," Killikelly said. "It is a continuation of an unfair set of practices the commission has been involved in."
The reprieve was the latest move in a long-running saga that has pitted City College and its powerful backers against the little-known but influential accrediting panel, setting off national scrutiny of accrediting practices.
The commission sanctioned the college in 2012, a move that jeopardized its accreditation after evaluators found it out of compliance with dozens of standards.
The panel then moved to terminate accreditation as of last July, arguing that the college had failed to make significant progress. That led to steep enrollment declines and a loss of funding.
But the commission came under serious criticism itself from educators, students and federal and state lawmakers such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough). They contend that it operates with little oversight and has been heavy-handed in sanctioning City College and many other of the state's 112 community colleges.
San Francisco City Atty. Dennis Herrera, seeking to overturn the City College sanction, sued the commission, alleging conflict of interest and political bias. That lawsuit put the July 31 termination deadline on hold pending the outcome of the trial.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow is expected to issue a decision this month. It was not clear whether the two-year extension would affect that ruling. Herrera's office declined to comment on the commission's move, but had previously indicated in a post-trial brief that such an extension would not be adequate.
Mayor Edwin Lee thanked the commission for its action.
"City College is critically important to our city's social and economic future," Lee said. "Our city's economy depends on it, and our students deserve nothing less than a fully accredited and thriving City College."
Brice Harris, chancellor of the state's community college system, said his office welcomed additional time to help City College improve operations.
"City College has entered a phase of stability and sustained improvement that will serve students well for many years to come," Harris said.