Students & Educators Rally Behind Community College Reforms
For immediate release: Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Contact: Robert Fulton (CFT), cell (858) 342-4532
Anthony Matthews (Ting), tel. (916) 319-2019
Accreditation legislation would help 112 schools, 2 million students
SACRAMENTO – Students and teachers from across California rallied at the State Capitol to urge the State Assembly Committee on Higher Education to pass legislation authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) to reform the accreditation process affecting California’s 112 community colleges serving 2.1 million students.
“Students deserve better,” said Shanell Williams, Student Trustee on City College of San Francisco’s Board of Trustees. “Accreditation should be about protecting our needs while going to college to get ahead. When accreditation decisions are made in secret, our voices are silenced and our futures are put at risk. City College faced closure from decisions made in secret. No one should have that power without having to justify it in the open when the education of over seventy thousand students is threatened.”
Inspired by systematic abuses of power from our accreditor – the San Rafael-based Accreditation Commission on Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) – both reform bills impose new standards for accountability in accreditation.
“California’s community colleges need to have an accreditation process that is fair, objective and transparent. City College of San Francisco’s accreditation saga has been extreme but not unique,” said Tim Killikelly, President of AFT Local 2121, which represents faculty at the college. “ACCJC has created a statewide culture of fear. Without these simple and reasonable reforms there is nothing to prevent colleges across the state from suffering the same fate as CCSF.”
“Different rules should not exist for different schools. Yet, this is common practice,” said Joanne Waddell, President of AFT Local 1521, which represents teachers in the Los Angeles Community College District. “Community Colleges throughout California have been unfairly caught up in this arbitrary system, which is cause for concern. The nine Los Angeles Community College campuses and the District will be visited by ACCJC teams next year. By reforming the accreditation process, these bills will help ensure California community colleges, including those in the LACCD, are subject to a credible peer review process and that the outcome is fair and justified.”
In June of 2014, the State Auditor concluded that ACCJC imposes sanctions more often than the other six peer accreditors across the country. Between 2009 and 2013, the ACCJC sanctioned 54.5 percent of colleges while its six peer institutions sanctioned at a combined rate of 12.4 percent. The auditor also found that ACCJC applies sanctions inconsistently.
Based on the audit’s findings and critiques from the U.S. Department of Education and our court system, Ting’s AB 1397 enacts the following accreditation process reforms:
Avoiding Conflicts of Interest – In order to ensure independent analyses of colleges, the bill stipulates that accreditation evaluation teams cannot include anyone affiliated with the accreditation Commission or any person with an affiliation or potential affiliation with the college under review. The latter would also be prohibited from debating or voting on a college’s accreditation.
Establishing a Right to Appeal Sanctions – Currently, the Commission denies due process of law withholding an appeals process for most sanctions, a unique practice among the nation’s accreditors. This bill requires a right of appeal, the accreditor to show why a sanction was issued, the California Community College Board to appoint appeals panels when needed, and the right for colleges to present new information in their appeals.
Ensuring Public Access and Accountability – The accreditor would be required to open its biannual meetings to the public, provide a sufficient amount of time for public comment, to take public comment before making decisions about a college’s accreditation, and to vote on accreditation matters in public sessions. The bill also requires itemized votes and minutes from meetings be recorded and posted online. None of this is current practice.
“Accreditation is a stamp of approval ensuring that students get a quality education. It is too important for our system to be unfair,” said Ting. “Our accreditor applies education standards inconsistently, sanctions schools at a disproportionately high rate, and shuts the public out of its meetings. We need these reforms to refocus accreditation back to the education our students receive through safeguards that ensure fairness, objectivity and transparency.”
The ACCJC is funded in part by annual assessments on colleges in its jurisdiction, which includes all of California. If a college refuses to pay, its accreditation is lost. This sets up a blank check dynamic because the ACCJC sanctions colleges over four times more than peer accreditors, which foments a litigious environment. Ting’s AB 1385 gives community colleges a new tool for accountability – the right to vote on assessments for Commission legal fees. This would function as a referendum on the 5 percent assessment increase last year which may be repeated this year.
“The accreditation process should ensure that the ACCJC is basing their decisions on accurate information,” said Mike Claire, President of the College of San Mateo and prior chair of college accreditation review teams. “Thus, our system of peer-based accreditation should welcome transparency in the decisions regarding the accredited status of our community colleges. Ironically, what we ask of our students in the classroom and of our colleges is neither encouraged nor desired by our accreditor when assessing a college to ensure it meets accreditation standards.”
The California Federation of Teachers represents 120,000 education employees in public and private schools, from Head Start through the University of California. It is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO.