Feds fault college-accrediting panel, advise giving it time to improve

Feds fault college-accrediting panel, advise giving it time to improve
Students at City College of San Francisco. Federal education officials cited the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges in August for violating regulations in its review of the school. (Liz Hafalia, San Francisco Chronicle)

A panel that moved to revoke accreditation from City College of San Francisco should continue to have authority to review two-year colleges -- even as it works to correct its own deficiencies, according to a U.S. Department of Education report.

The report recommends that the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges be given a year to correct those issues. It doesn't seek to pull recognition of the agency, though many critics had hoped it would.


Among key conclusions was that the panel has failed to get many educators and other professionals to support its policies and decisions, which is one of the standards it must meet.

The report said the department had received more than 100 third-party written comments connected to the commission's application to renew its authority. Many of them denounced the panel's decision to revoke City College's accreditation next year, it said.

The commission submitted letters on its own behalf, but "these letters do not demonstrate broad acceptance of its standards, policies, procedures and accrediting decisions as they are letters of gratitude not letters of support," the report said.

"In addition," the report said, "four faculty senates at California institutions, three California-wide faculty organizations, and one national faculty organization provided written comments that indicated their disagreement with the policies and actions of the agency and that call into question the wide acceptance of the agency's … decisions to grant or deny accreditation by educators."

The commission also could not document that sufficient numbers of educators served on its evaluation teams, according to the report.

The report "is a positive outcome for ACCJC," the commission's president, Barbara Beno, said in a statement.

"The department gave us time to fully implement some of our new policies and our practices -- for example, to complete review of accreditation standards which is now underway and scheduled for completion next June," Beno said.

Beno also noted that the department dismissed some complaints, finding no evidence, for example, that the commission was inconsistent in its application of standards.

The report's findings are to be heard next week by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which will then make a final recommendation to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

To keep evaluating colleges, the accrediting commission -- a private, nonprofit agency that is part of the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges -- needs to be recognized by the federal government periodically.

Federal education officials cited the commission in August for violating regulations in its review of City College. The commission had determined that the campus failed to improve serious financial and governance problems.

Since then, three lawsuits have been filed by faculty unions, the San Francisco city attorney and other supporters to keep the campus open.

"To see the Department of Education continue to corroborate the serious concerns we've raised is very important," said Alisa Messer, a City College English instructor who is also president of the local teachers federation. "Hoping they might have gone a little further, that's something many of us would like to see happen. But realistically, the department has been very clear in criticizing the ACCJC for their actions."



Twitter: @CarlaRiveralat