A California lawmaker Thursday questioned whether the federal government is providing enough scrutiny of higher education accrediting agencies, citing the controversial decision by a private panel to revoke the accreditation of City College of San Francisco.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) raised the prospect that the accrediting system and the government's oversight of it is flawed in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
"Educators and faculty have raised concerns that accreditors are largely self-regulated and seem to act with impunity," Speier wrote. "Specifically, the Accrediting Commission for Junior and Community Colleges' conduct has raised concerns regarding not only its practices, but whether sufficient oversight and accountability mechanisms are in place at the federal level to oversee accreditors."
The letter was co-signed by a number of other lawmakers, including Reps. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro), Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles).
The decision by the Novato-based commission to revoke City College's accreditation for largely financial and administrative deficiencies created a backlash and put the entire accrediting system under a spotlight.
San Francisco's city attorney and teachers' unions filed lawsuits alleging that the accrediting agency did not follow proper procedures. State Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced legislation that would, among other features, allow a community college district to choose from a number of regional accreditors.
The agency argues that its reviews of 133 community colleges in California and the Pacific Northwest are fair and intended to uphold the highest academic standards.
In January, the education department gave the agency a year to fix several of its own deficiencies but renewed its recognition.
Among the questions posed by Speier are why regions have only one accreditor, whether the government has looked at the merits of certifying more than one accreditor for each region and whether agencies should be reviewed more frequently.
Jane Glickman, a spokeswoman for Duncan, said the department would respond to Speier's letter but provided no timeline.