The City of San Francisco went to court in October to stop the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges from effectively shutting its beloved City College and ending affordable higher education for 80,000 students. 

Statewide, community colleges are fighting for fair accreditation and one college that lost its accreditation is working to get it back. Classified staff are helping.

Compton College was losing its accreditation when Amankwa McKinzie began working in the Athletic Department nearly eight years ago. The college now operates as the Compton Educational Center under El Camino College.

Compton and El Camino officials lead an Accreditation Steering Committee that meets monthly to assess progress toward re-accreditation. Five subcommittees of faculty, students, staff, and administrators evaluate departments.

McKinzie, who is classified president of the Compton Federation of Employees, said the center now meets 10 of the 21 required criteria. “That’s enough for eligibility as part of El Camino, but for independent accreditation, we need to meet the criteria on our own.”

Teams, with at least two classified employees each, are preparing written assessments for each of the criteria. “The report must include all members’ input,” said McKinzie. “Our voices are being heard.”

The Los Angeles Community College District undertakes a comprehensive self study every six years as part of the accreditation process. Teams of faculty, administrators, classified, and students assess current institutional efforts and put forth improvements. The next review, for which the district has budgeted $1 million, is set for spring 2016, and the new chancellor is gearing up to ensure that no campuses are put “on watch” again.

That means the AFT College Staff Guild is mobilizing members to play active roles on campus committees. “Classified employees need to be at the table,” said Guild President Velma J. Butler, “and it’s better for everyone concerned if we’re involved earlier rather than later.”

The San Diego Community College District hasn’t had accreditation problems during the eight years Yvonne Schmeltz has worked at City College, but she has seen the process fall short without support staff input and accounting for the history of understaffing and workloads.

Schmeltz believes classified must speak up. “We often add our point of view in accreditation committees, but we aren’t always among the members who write the reports later, and those reports are often the basis for important decisions.”

She said districts often miss an opportunity in shared governance committees. “Administrators give classified members of committees important documents at the last minute just to get us to sign off. That isn’t really shared governance,” she said. “A strong union can hold administrations accountable.”