Schooled - Page 2

Accrediting commission threatening to shutter City College gets scrutiny from Congress

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US Rep. Jackie Speier pledges to reform the accreditation process during a Nov. 7 forum.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY EVAN DUCHARME

On the surface, the critique seems reasonable. More people should transfer, and more people should graduate. But how colleges get those numbers is the challenge. The ACCJC asking City College to jettison students not aiming for a higher degree was just the start, one higher education watchdog told us.

"There are people on both sides saying that accreditation is broken. The White House is pushing this, as are Republicans. You almost never hear that," Paul Fain, a reporter for Inside Higher Ed, told the Guardian.

But the reform may lead to the transformation of accreditation, allowing tech companies and long distance online learning universities to bypass the process entirely.

Accreditation is seen as "holding back innovators who are trying to transform the Internet," Fain said.

These "innovators" are largely for-profit colleges that want to offer single courses or shortened courses online, like the Minerva Project or Straighterline, both online universities lobbying Congress to loosen accreditation requirements.

But for-profit colleges have been attacked nationally for their abysmal job placement rates, and their graduation rates aren't much better. A widely circulated 2010 report by the think tank Education Trust found that for-profits in the U.S. had a graduation rate of 22 percent.

And with many of those for-profits fighting for accreditation reform by Congress, it's unclear how a push to reform accreditation from Speier would aid or stall them.

 

FEAR FACTOR

ACCJC President Barbara Beno said that City College is having problems facing reality. Beno would only speak with the Guardian by email through a representative. She defended the accountability of the ACCJC, saying that her doors were always open.

"Colleges don't need a forum like that held on Nov. 7; they can write to the commission at any time, or ask to address the decision-making commissioners at one of their two meetings each year, or can call up the commission chair or president," Beno wrote.

"Instead of joining forces to help improve City College, many purported supporters of the college are bent on disrupting the ACCJC operations. It is simple to blame the messenger of bad news," she wrote. "People unhappy with the commissioners' decisions are targeting [me] for doing [my] job."

But Rafael Mandelman, a newly elected member of CCSF Board of Trustees, told those assembled at the forum that ACCJC was unprofessional and unduly punitive: "I went from ACCJC agnostic, to skeptic, to foe"

Dr. Sarah Perkins, vice president of instruction of Skyline College, told the forum that ACCJC is hard to work with.

"I came here to California after spending 25 years in the middle part of the country under the Higher Learning Commission," she said, contrasting that accrediting agency with the bullying done by ACCJC. "That I even feel like I'm putting my college at risk by speaking at this forum speaks volumes."

Indeed, the ACCJC even makes criticism of the agency or its methods grounds for a revocation of accreditation, making "collegiality" part of its "policy on institutional integrity and ethics." CCSF Special Trustee Bob Agrella in September cited that as one reason not to criticize the agency.

Sen. Jim Beall and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano were also in attendance at the forum, and promised to continue the fight at the state level to preserve City College. The Joint Legislative Audit Committee is evaluating ACCJC at the request of those legislators and Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber).

"We will kick a lot of butt, with class, of course," Ammiano said.

And would City College close down? "It's not going to happen," Speier said to the cheering crowd.