Helping Hand for Compton

A troubled California community college, on the verge of losing its accreditation, could be saved by a friend.
March 29, 2006

Compton Community College could get a hand from an ally 400 miles north in its effort to keep offering accredited courses.

Last June, citing the California college's poor governance and lack of student support services, along with a history of financial mismanagement, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges decided to strip Compton's accreditation.

The Board of Trustees of the Peralta Community College District, in Oakland, planned Tuesday night to discuss whether to consider taking Compton over.

Mark Drummond, chancellor of the California Community Colleges, put out the call for an institution to manage Compton, but none of the districts that border Compton stepped forward. The chancellor’s office plans to appeal the loss of accreditation to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges -- the accrediting commission's parent organization -- in April. But Compton has already lost one appeal. If it loses again, the college will lose state funding and federal financial aid for students, and the college would likely close by summer.

If Peralta decided to be Compton’s administrative agent, the college, which serves a city where only about 4 percent of adults have bachelor’s degrees, could continue to offer accredited courses.

The Peralta district recently emerged from its own accreditation battle, in which several colleges were taken off accreditation “warning” status. “We feel that with our own accreditation issues and our expertise in enrollment management and finance, we could help to get them back on track,” said Jeff Heyman, a Peralta spokesman.

How the Peralta trustees feel, however, is the real question. Cy Gulassa, one trustee, said that he has received only paltry information that would help him make an informed decision. “I have no problem with rescuing Compton College,” Gulassa said. “I think that’s a noble enterprise.... The question is whether Peralta is properly positioned to offer support services like this at this particular time.” Gulassa added that no information “has flowed across our desks or screens that would help us to make an important decision like this.” Gulassa hopes to postpone any certain action for or against taking Compton over until more information is made available.

Drummond has said that he will not allow Compton Community College to close, and his office still hopes to avoid hanging its hopes on Peralta. “For the most part, [Compton’s] fiscal issues have been addressed,” said Cheryl Fong, a spokeswoman in Drummond’s office who is working on keeping Compton open. “The college is in the black.” She called the fact that Peralta is even considering lending a hand “a huge gesture of good will.”

Bill Withrow, another Peralta trustee, said that the Compton district, which is 59 percent Latino and 27 percent black,”is the kind of area that can most benefit from the California Community College system.” But, he added, “it is not easy to define a role for the Peralta Community College District to assume in terms of authority, accountability, liability and risk.”

Fong said that Compton would be the first public institution to lose its accreditation. “If any district offers protection under their accreditation, it would be welcomed. We don’t want to be the first one to go down in the nation. It’s really important to this community.”


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