The California State Auditor on Thursday issued a scathing report on the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), the regional accreditor that has come under fire for its handling of the City College of San Francisco crisis.
The auditor's office said the commission acted in an inconsistent manner with its decision to terminate City College's accreditation. The report found that City College was given less time to come into compliance than were other institutions. It also criticized the commission for a lack of transparency.
In its recommendations, the auditor said the California community college system's chancellor should consider the possibility of finding a new accrediting body for the state's 112 community colleges. A spokesperson for the system said a single accreditor is the best approach, and that having multiple accreditors operate in the state would "create a number of distracting challenges."
The commission fired back at the auditor's findings, saying in a written statement that the state agency lacks the authority and expertise to audit the commission. "While the analysts attempted to be thorough," the commission said, "the lack of expertise in accreditation regulations and practice created difficulties."
In January the U.S. Department of Education renewed the commission's recognition. That process, which occurs every five years, gives accreditors the authority to act as gatekeepers for federal financial aid.
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved legislation that will overhaul federal job training programs and funding for vocational education.
Lawmakers passed the measure, which reauthorizes the Workforce Investment Act, on a 95-3 vote. Democrats and Republicans struck a bipartisan deal on the legislation earlier this year.
The bill would streamline job training programs an emphasize partnerships between higher education and employers. Community colleges and other higher education have praised the bill.
The Obama administration on Wednesday formally backed the Senate-passed bill, which now heads to the House of Representatives. It’s unclear what path the legislation will take in that chamber since House lawmakers previously passed a vastly different rewrite of the Workforce Investment Act that drew opposition from Democrats and mixed reviews from community colleges.
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a North Carolina Democrat, last week introduced a bill that would seek to encourage four-year institutions to identify transfer students who have earned enough credits for an associate degree but never received one. Through this process, which is dubbed "reverse transfer," students at four-year institutions can earn associate degrees they failed to receive before transferring. The bill would encourage reverse transfer by creating competitive grants for states.
An independent panel on Friday instructed City College of San Francisco's accreditor, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, to reconsider its decision last year to terminate the college's accreditation. The commission appointed a five-member panel to rule on the college's appeal of the termination decision. While City College may have deserved that decision when it was made, the panel ruled, the college's efforts to fix its problems during the last six months deserve a look by the commission.
"CCSF was not in substantial compliance with accreditation standards and eligibility requirements as of June 7, 2013," the panel said. "However, for the reasons discussed above, ... there is 'good cause' for a consideration of CCSF’s achievement of compliance with accreditation standards and eligibility requirements though January 10, 2014 and up to and including the end of the evidentiary hearing sessions on appeal (May 21, 2014)."
The panel directed the commission to set aside its termination decision until it can consider the expanded body of evidence on City College's progress.
There are two other ways the college could avoid losing its accreditation, and almost certainly shutting down as a result. Last week the commission announced a change in its policies to create the option of a "restoration" period during which the college could get an extra two years to come into compliance. And a lawsuit San Francisco's city attorney filed, which seeks to block the commission's termination action, is due in court in October.
A statement the commission distributed on Friday included the headline "CCSF Loses Appeal on Termination." That claim apparently was based on the panel's rejection of much of City College's arguments in its appeal.
The college quickly fired back to "set the record straight" with a news release of its own.
"The ACCJC’s statement earlier today creates the misleading impression that City College of San Francisco has 'lost' its appeal to the ACCJC," the release said.
The governing board of the Technical College System of Georgia on Thursday voted to approve the proposed merger between Moultrie Technical College and Southwest Georgia Technical College. The system has used mergers in an attempt to save money and be more efficient. The Moultrie and Southwest consolidation is due to be completed next year. It will reduce the number of colleges in the system to 22, down from 33 in 2009, when the mergers began. System officials said students experience little change in the day-to-day operations of their campuses during mergers.
A core purpose of remedial education is to provide all students with a real opportunity for college success, regardless of their skill level or academic background. Inside Higher Ed recently published opinion pieces with different takes on the best ways to design remedial programs. This exchange between Stan Jones of Complete College America and Hunter Boylan of the National Center for Developmental Education is a welcome sign. We are concerned, however, that an important consideration has been largely undervalued in the current conversation. Students assigned to remedial education in college are not a uniform group, and the colleges they attend are far from homogenous. Treating them as such masks important differences in opportunity and achievement due to differences in students’ prior academic preparation, incoming skill level, age, race, income and status as first-generation college students.
Students who start in developmental education, particularly those at the lowest levels, face significant obstacles that frequently lead to gaps in educational opportunity and achievement down the road. While there has been considerable rhetoric about the existence of these gaps on the front end, there has been surprisingly little data used to show how the solutions being put forward today would actually address these inequities in the long run. Reform efforts that neglect to address these disparities only threaten to perpetuate them. We support extending the current conversation on reform efforts in developmental education to include four critical considerations:
1. An explicit focus on closing opportunity gaps for students. Opportunity gaps arise when students have different degrees of access to college programs in high school, and these opportunities vary according to a variety of factors, such as school quality and academic preparation. Opportunity gaps are the first step in closing achievement gaps nationwide, yet they are almost never referenced in reports of developmental education reform. Jobs for the Future’s Early College Expansion report provides one example of how closing postsecondary opportunity gaps can be done, and highlights linkages between opportunity gaps and achievement gaps for various groups of students. Starting college while still in high school has been shown to have a significant impact on college enrollment, retention and success for a wide range of student populations. Expanding these opportunities to all high schools and all students, including at-risk students, is one of the most critical steps in closing achievement gaps and fulfilling the completion agenda.
2. An explicit focus on closing achievement gaps for students. The Lumina Foundation recently issued its annual report, A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education, which highlighted persistent college degree attainment gaps by race, with "black adults (ages 25-64) reporting 28 percent degree attainment, Native Americans representing 23 percent, and Hispanics representing with 20 percent attainment, compared to 59 percent for Asians and 44 percent for whites." Also, college participation rates still differ significantly based on income. “While 82.4 percent of potential students (of all races) in the top third of the income scale enroll in college, only 53.5 percent of those in the bottom third do so,” The report said. Jamie Merisotis, Lumina’s president, states, “As the nation’s population becomes increasingly diverse, we must do more to address these troubling attainment divides … We cannot successfully meet our nation’s future economic and social needs unless educational achievement opportunities are available to all Americans.”
3. Comprehensive examples and disaggregated data showing how proposed solutions will address gaps in opportunity and achievement. This information is vital if the chasm between national goals and institutional implementation is to be bridged. Yet these details are notably missing from many national reports and publications. Large-scale solutions require local implementation, and many colleges and programs have little knowledge or information on achievement gaps by race, income status or academic ability for their own students. The 2011 report from MDRC, Turning the Tide: Five Years of Achieving the Dreamin Community Colleges, illuminates this divide with the findings that “overcoming racial, ethnic and income achievement gaps was not a key goal at the majority of Round 1 colleges. Only eight college leaders made explicit attempts to raise awareness about those issues.” As we move forward into an era of reform in developmental education, it is more important than ever to not only acknowledge, but to confront these gaps in educational attainment. Education Trust’s Replenishing Opportunity in America provides helpful examples that show the impact of the solutions on various student groups. This should be the norm when it comes to national reports. Providing these details and data about the proposed solutions will both enrich the conversation and help to gain buy-in of stakeholders.
4. Examples of other successful models. Boylan and Jones both encourage looking to new, innovative models in our efforts to reform remedial education, and we agree. Mastery learning, for example, has been shown to not only close race and gender gaps; it has also been shown to provide a solid foundation for college success. Given the scarcity of examples and data surrounding achievement gaps in the current reports, additional models and examples should be sought out and welcomed into the conversation.
In conclusion, overcoming racial, ethnic and income achievement gaps should be a goal of all American colleges. We cannot achieve equity until we are able to identify and address inequity. Simply acknowledging achievement gaps does not close them. Putting forth models that have actually closed these gaps, complete with details and data, will help to get us there. Using data to illuminate and address gaps in student opportunity and achievement should be the focus of the national conversation and reform efforts in developmental education going forward.
John Squires and Angela Boatman
John Squires is head of the mathematics department at Chattanooga State Community College. Angela Boatman is an assistant professor of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt University.