San Mateo Daily Journal - College district to seek review of accreditation agency: San Mateo County officials expressing "deep" concern over strained relationships

January 30, 2014
In The News

By Angela Swartz

As the San Mateo County Community College District awaits word on its accreditation, it is considering adopting a resolution advocating for careful review of the community college accreditation agency and expressing “deep” concern for the strained relationships between said agency and many colleges.
Board President Karen Schwarz said she would absolutely vote in favor of the resolution since she believes there needs to be more oversight of the agency. The district especially buckled down since City College of San Francisco was told this summer it will lose its accreditation in less than a year.
“There’s a lot of questions being asked about this agency,” she said. “It has all come to a boiling point. [City College] and a couple other colleges have been unjustly sanctioned.”
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, the agency that certifies two-year colleges in the western United States, recently visited the district for an accreditation review. Though there will be a discussion at a meeting next Tuesday night about the resolution, no action will be taken on the item then.
The draft of the resolution states the troubled nature of the relationship between the agency and many of its member institutions has manifested into frequent and severe sanctions unseen in other regions.
“These are actions which have created an enrollment and financial crisis for that institution and damaged its reputation — threatening its very existence as the only public community college in the city and county of San Francisco, despite widespread support for the college from the people of San Francisco,” the resolution states.
The resolution goes on to urge careful scrutiny of the agency’s work as a regional accreditor during the upcoming review of the agency for federal recognition by the U.S. Department of Education.
In the draft, the trustees recommends that the Department of Education include in its review of the agency consider merging the agency with the senior Western Association of Schools and Colleges agency into a single higher education accrediting commission for the western region to bring the structure of this region’s commission in line with the structure of the other five regions.
Other board members would support such a resolution.
“Our chancellor and district have been more active and vocal in expressing concerns about the body,” said Trustee Patricia Miljanich. “We still have to honor all the requirements and work really hard. We’re still very concerned with the tone of accreditation changing to punishments instead of improvements. It’s unnecessarily scared many students from having confidence in community colleges.”
Miljanich said she is glad some involvement is starting to take place from legislators. Yesterday, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, and community college leaders met to discuss the agency’s effect on schools, faculty and students and ways to improve the accreditation process.
Don Kaplan, executive secretary of the American Federation of Teachers, revised the resolution and requested the board consider adopting it. Schwarz agreed to bring the resolution as an information item to the board for discussion. So far, six to eight local academic senates in California have passed similar resolutions, according to a staff report. Community college districts and academic senates across the state have been asked to adopt the resolution, Barbara Christensen, director of community and government relations, said.
In October, the district interviewed with the accreditation agency and turned in supporting documentation for its accreditation. The accreditation decision is set to be released in early 2014.
“We had to put our worry aside and do best district can do to comply,” Schwarz said. “I think the visiting team had nothing but compliments on their way out.”
The resolution could go up for vote at the Dec. 11 board meeting, Schwarz said. The Tuesday meeting takes place, 6 p.m. Nov. 12 at the district office board room, 3401 CSM Drive in San Mateo.