City College of San Francisco- being bullied into privatization

The City College of San Francisco (CCSF) this month has been given devastating news from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), a private body that handles its accreditation. After a series of escalating sanctions, they now say they will revoke accreditation in July 2014. Such action would remove students from loan eligibility and lead to closure. With 85,000 students, it would be the largest American place of higher education to lose this in history.

This decision is nothing short of chilling. I am one of the millions of students in the California Community College system, of which CCSF is a part. There is nothing fundamentally different between CCSF and my school- similar levels of academic quality, a strong faculty, and programs that help minorities, low income students, and the huge portion of Californians who are learning English as a second language. At heart, there is nothing wrong with the academics or the big-picture financial stability of the colleges. A feature from In These Times states that

Instead of focusing on the caliber of instruction and educational programs, claims former California Federation of Teachers President Martin Hittelman in a briefing paper (PDF), the accrediting body has attempted “to micro-manage the fiscal and governance processes of the colleges it accredits through fear and intimidation.”

Colleges in the United States are accredited by regional bodies, who are private but recognized as valid by state governments. The ACCJC is the community college branch of a larger group called the Western Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC). In addition to public institutions such as CCSF, WASC also evaluates private schools. The high school I went to is accredited through the larger group.

The trend that is worrying is that these bodies increasingly look at education as a business, and seek school finances to have the rigorous, bare-bones accountancy that you would expect from a Fortune 500 corporation. As the article states, CCSF has had its budget slashed, but that has been balanced by local measures being passed. In the grand scheme of California Community Colleges, they are one of the healthiest colleges in the post-economic crisis landscape.

These private groups take money for groups that have an interest in making education private and expensive:

Last year the Lumina Foundation, an Indianapolis-based body established in 2001 by the private loan industry, awarded ACCJC a grant to develop a new “Degree Qualifications Profile Project” that will develop measures for assessing student learning at community colleges. (A failure to adequately document “student learning outcomes” was one of the deficiencies listed in the 2012 sanction report.)

Besides loan agencies, the aggressive moves against public, non-profit colleges in the end benefits expensive, for-profit colleges.

Just as the closures of schools deemed underperforming have paved the way for the expansion of charter schools—even though the performance of charters has been decidedly mixed—labor activists warn that a new push to impose rigid standards on public colleges and universities could increase the market share of for-profit colleges that have often been accused of scamming students and taxpayers alike.

The past few years have been tough for the community colleges in my area. One college axed their creative writing program the year I arrived. While administration is growing, counseling has had severe cuts. There is one person who can create disability accommodations, but hundreds of people that need to see her each term. But these places aren’t a joke. They aren’t scamming students, and the quality of their courses is strong. If non-profit schools are threatened because they don’t act enough like a business, or a for-profit college, that is a serious danger to American education.