The Dismantling of an Accrediting Commission

Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges President Barbara A. Beno. (Illustration by Zoheb Bhutia
Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges President Barbara A. Beno.
(Illustration by Zoheb Bhutia

NEWS ANALYSIS

By Andy Bays

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), a maligned agency in charge of evaluating two-year colleges in California, was given the final nail in the coffin on March 21 by policy-makers in Sacramento, but they’re not going down without a fight.

The Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges (CCC), who oversee the state’s 113 community colleges, voted unanimously to replace the the ACCJC over allegations of financial opacity, poor leadership, substandard training and failure to communicate with colleges.

A 2015 Task Force on Accreditation was assembled by the CCC to take a hard look at the ACCJC. The Task Force’s report states its inception as the culmination of eight years of “concern” and “calls for reform,” and its conclusions and recommendations were highly influential in the recent vote to dismantle the embattled commission.

The ACCJC’s systemic shortcomings, the report states, resulted in the “clear consensus that the ACCJC had lost credibility within the system.”

The measures elected by the CCC will restructure the ACCJC for its remaining few years while a new agency is created to better serve the changing dynamics of community colleges in California.

Earlier this year, 15 California community colleges were approved to offer bachelor’s degrees in select industry-related fields such as respiratory therapy, dental hygiene and automotive technology. The report states this as one reason for a need for a total overhaul, rather than simple adjustments, to the accreditation system.

The Commission

The ACCJC placed two-thirds of all community colleges in California on some form of sanction from 2005 through 2015. That level is “inordinately high compared to the frequency of sanctions under other accreditors,” the Task Force’s report states.

If a college loses its accreditation, it loses access to taxpayer dollars — and federal financial aid for students.

As a result, public sentiment has been overwhelmingly negative regarding both the ACCJC and its long-time president, Dr. Barbara Beno.

City College Political Science instructor Tim Killikelly told San Francisco news site 48 hills in Dec. 2014 that the ACCJC was “instilling a culture of fear across the state community college system” with their campaign to sanction and shutdown colleges. Speaking to the same publication, State Senator Jim Nielsen described Dr. Beno as the most “arrogant, condescending and dismissive individual” he had ever met.

Asked to comment on the ACCJC’s replacement, an employee working in the ACCJC, who declined to give his name, refused to speak with The Guardsman as he shut the office door.

In 2012, the ACCJC tried to terminate City College’s accreditation for being in a “perilous financial position,” though the agency never found  problems with City College’s academics. City College, the largest community college in the nation (and still accredited), suffered a plummet in enrollment when news of the ACCJC’s sanctions made headlines.

The ACCJC, in a 2013 lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court by City Attorney Dennis Herrera, was found guilty of “significant unlawful practices” in their attempts to terminate City College’s accreditation.

The ACCJC doesn’t see it that way, however. In an email exchange Beno said City College “was found to be in terrible condition; evaluators noted scores of deficiencies that needed fixing by the college. Problems included deficient student services, outdated instruction guides, antiquated computer systems and lack of fiscal controls.”

Beno said that although efforts were made by “some leaders to help City College swiftly improve, internal discord has prevented sufficient progress. This dysfunction has been documented by independent parties, including the college’s own external auditor and the state’s Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team.”

“The process ACCJC uses has been proven repeatedly to be effective. Colleges improve, and tell us they are better off,” Beno added.

City College Chancellor Susan Lamb, who previously worked for a different accrediting agency, spoke in her office about the brewing discontent with the ACCJC last November.

“Accreditation is supposed to be peers coming in to evaluate [a college], and help them meet standards. The process has become less collegial and more punitive,” she said.

City College currently has a one-of-a-kind accreditation status called “restoration,” and will undergo a comprehensive evaluation in its application for reaffirmation of accreditation in Fall 2016. The ACCJC will review City’s progress in January 2017.

Paul Feist, Vice Chancellor for Communications at CCC, said that the Task Force’s decision scrapping the ACCJC extends “well beyond the accreditation challenges that City College of San Francisco faced in recent years.”

In response to Dr. Beno’s assertion that the process ACCJC uses is proven effective, Feist said “the report of the task force speaks for itself.”

  • The ACCJC was founded in 1962
  • The ACCJC is one of six regional accrediting organizations in the United States.
  • The ACCJC is a non-governmental, independent organization of educators.
  • A college must be accredited in order to participate in federal student financial aid programs.
  • The ACCJC generated 89% of all sanctions issued nationwide between 2003 and 2008.
  • In 2013, the ACCJC declared that it would shut down City College.
  • Dennis Herrera, San Francisco District Attorney, successfully sued the ACCJC in San Francisco Superior Court for illegally allowing biases to influence their accreditation action.
  • Last month, California Community Colleges Board of Governors voted unanimously, with one abstention, to reform and replace the ACCJC.

Contact a reporter

Send an email to: Andy Bays