California Community Colleges’ accreditation commission still under scrutiny

Robert Thomas, Staff Writer/Photographer

San Diego Mesa College’s visit from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges next spring coincides with a major overhaul of the ACCJC’s accrediting standards and a search for a new accrediting agency.

This may be Mesa’s last visit from the ACCJC since they are currently under scrutiny for failing to meet federal accreditation standards. If the U.S. Department of Education decides that an accrediting body does not meet its standards, then colleges receiving accreditation from that body may become ineligible for federal funding, such as financial aid for its students. The ACCJC has been under fire ever since conflicts arose between the commission and City College of San Francisco. CCSF, a college of nearly 90,000 students was in danger of losing its accreditation entirely following its March, 2012 evaluation by the ACCJC. According to a Sept. 1, 2015 article in the San Francisco Examiner, CCSF had issues with the report, claiming that the ACCJC was unclear in its expectations for improvement, was not transparent in its evaluative process, had not adequately trained its staff, and was not consistent with federal guidelines.

Since the conflict with CCSF began, California community college educators have become highly critical of the ACCJC. Michael Stratford wrote in a Dec., 2015 article on insidehighered.com, a reputable and comprehensive website covering news regarding institutions of higher learning, “amid complaints from City College (of San Francisco) supporters — faculty unions, student advocates and some elected officials — the Education Department in 2014 determined that the ACCJC was out of compliance with 15 federal standards for accreditors.” An Aug., 2015 article by Paul Fain on the same website states that the ACCJC was in violation of federal regulations by not giving CCSF an adequate opportunity to fix the issues identified in their evaluation of the school, as well as not having the “ideal attributes” of an accreditor, such as transparency in its evaluative process and avoiding conflicts of interest.

In addition to the issues going on with ACCJC’s standards, a new accrediting body will likely be needed as the ACCJC is limited to accrediting only 2-year institutions of higher learning, and many community colleges in California have begun to offer four-year degree programs. One option is to allow the Western Association of Schools and Colleges to be the single accrediting body for all the community colleges in California. As one of the six main regional accrediting agencies in the U.S., WASC is widely respected. However, major overhauls within its structure would have to take place in order to accommodate all 113 community colleges in California since it is only authorized to accredit 4-year institutions of higher learning. According to a March, 2016 article on insidehighered.com, “Constance Carroll, chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, said she’s in favor of one single accrediting commission that serves both the state’s two- and four-year institutions.”

In the meantime, San Diego Mesa College will prepare for the Spring, 2017 ACCJC evaluation as usual. Jack Beresford, Director of Communications and Public Relations for SDCCD, told The Mesa Press in an email that, “there is a lot of effort being made at all levels to prepare each self-evaluation report. Beyond our own situation, our college presidents and chancellor are participating in the statewide discussion about the level of satisfaction with the current accreditation commission as well as a transition to a new accreditor.”

The Mesa College Accreditation Committee is already hard at work preparing for next year’s evaluation and ensuring compliance with federal standards for accreditation. Additionally, according to Mesa’s 2013 Accreditation Mid-term report, the school is meeting the five recommendations made by the ACCJC during the last evaluation as well as implementing a 17-part self-improvement plan put together by Mesa’s Planning and Institutional Effectiveness Committee.