By Otto Pippenger
The California Community Colleges Board of Governors has effectively revoked the ACCJC’s monopoly over community college Accreditation within California as soon as the current accreditation cycle ends. As of January 20, changed language in the Title 5 Regulations has opened the door for new accrediting organizations to be formed and assume the duties that until now have been the sole province of the ACCJC.
This decision does not necessarily mean that the ACCJC will be removed, only that there will be a period of competition to select a new agency. If a credible alternative does not emerge, it is possible that the ACCJC will resume the position, though the changes set a precedent that could be repeated in the event of future complaints.
As former City College Teacher’s Union AFT 2121 President Alyssa Messer said “In many ways this is the best thing that could have happened.”
Coming only days after Judge Karnow’s tentative ruling that the ACCJC has in fact broken four laws in its dealings with CCSF, this decision represents a huge victory for City College and other schools around the state. The changes were made based on recommendations to the Board of Governors made by the Bureau of State Audits in April, and recommended by Chancellor Brice Harris.
Most attribute these changes to widespread public and official indignation with the conduct of the ACCJC in dealing with City College in particular. The scope of this decision cannot be understated.
The ACCJC has been essentially dissolved in an heretofore unprecedented change to state law. “If you look at the original regulations and see that their (the ACCJC’s) name is written into state law- that they had to change state law because of their behavior is huge. There’s a reason their name had to be there and deciding that they had to remove that sends a very strong signal.” said Messer.
The California State Auditor’s recommendations were partially prompted by and included a detailed examination of the ACCJC’s treatment of City College.
California Community Colleges Vice Chancellor for Communications Paul Feist has been quoted as saying that new accrediting bodies will most likely emerge as expansions of existing bodies in other states, or which are currently overseeing four-year colleges.
“This is a huge opportunity for us to make sure that the ACCJC is not our only accreditor” said Messer.
As accreditation is based on a seven-year cycle however, this does not free the school from the ACCJC’s oversight. CCSF will remain in its precarious position with the ACCJC at least until the end of Restoration Status in October 2017 if not longer, barring further actions by the court or state.
It is in fact most likely that City College will be forced to remain with the ACCJC for the better part of a decade, according to Feist, due to the nature of laws regarding the changing of school accreditors. Messer said “at the moment this doesn’t change anything for CCSF.”
The Board’s analysis of the changes specifies that the Board of Governors, at the recommendation of the chancellor will eventually specify a different accrediting agency to oversee California’s community colleges. Assuming the ACCJC is not specified, there will most likely be a “migration period” in which more than one agency would be responsible for the state community colleges. After this period of possible competition, only a single agency would be responsible.
California Federation of Teachers Communications Director Fred Glass lauded the decision, but stressed that it does little to change the current accreditation situation, saying “the CFT’s next move is to use the Title 5 Changes as an opening to ask the state legislature or Department of Education to take a role in selecting the new accrediting agency. “
Messer described the search for a new accreditor as a vital part of securing the future of City College. As messer said, “The most important thing now is to see who will accredit fairly.”
While not immediately impacting the day to day affairs of CCSF this ruling represents the latest in a series of censures to the ACCJC by state politicians, San Francisco courts, and now the Board of Governors. As CCSF moves into the Restoration Status process, the ACCJC’s decision will be watched by organizations throughout the state. After CCSF’s cycle with the agency ends, their continued existence will rest in the hands of the Board of Governors.
In describing the situation, Messer offered a description she had heard others use, saying, “I’ve heard this described by others as ‘The Nuclear Option.’ Harris would not have done this if he saw any other option.”