After waiting for nearly two years, the Obama administration this week decided to uphold its decision that California's community college accreditor was not meeting federal accreditation standards, and it gave the accreditor a year to resolve the issues.
Acting Education Secretary John King on Monday rejected the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges' appeal of two of the department's 2014 findings against the accreditor. King affirmed the department's original determination that the ACCJC was not "widely accepted" by educators and that it also did not assign enough academics to the teams that evaluated colleges.
"In this case, the department expressed a reasonable basis for finding ACCJC noncompliant with the regulations," he wrote.
King extended the department's recognition of the ACCJC for the next 12 months but required the accreditor to prove that it has come into compliance with the standards by next January, just weeks before the Obama administration leaves office.
Barbara Beno, president of the ACCJC, said in an email Wednesday that the accrediting organization was "disappointed in the decision but will comply with it and address the recognition criteria within the one year compliance period."
The decision is the latest development in a complicated, drawn-out battle over the accreditation of California's community colleges. In 2013, ACCJC sought to revoke the accreditation of the City College of San Francisco. That decision drew sharp criticism from faculty unions and California political leaders, who filed lawsuits and brought their complaints about the accreditor to the Education Department.
After a recommendation from its federal advisory committee -- and amid pressure from City College supporters, faculty unions and members of Congress representing the San Francisco area, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi -- the Education Department in 2014 found ACCJC out of compliance with 15 federal standards for accreditors and gave it a year to resolve those issues.
The ACCJC appealed the department's decision on two of those standards. Meanwhile, the department's accreditation advisory panel last month took up the issue of whether the ACCJC had resolved its problems with the remaining 13 standards.
Over concerns that the accreditor still was not meeting some of the standards, members of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity voted to recommend that the Education Department give the ACCJC only an extra six months to demonstrate its compliance. The panel also recommended that the department remove some of the agency's existing authority to accredit some bachelor's degree programs.
The department has until mid-March to decide whether to accept those recommendations from NACIQI. It's not clear how that decision would align with King's order this week to extend ACCJC's recognition for the next 12 months.
Faculty unions and supporters of City College who flooded the NACIQI hearing last month were angered that the department would not accept testimony at that time on the two issues that were under appeal.
Critics of the ACCJC see one of those issues -- the federal standard requiring that accreditors be "widely accepted" among educators -- as particularly helpful to their cause because, they argue, the accreditor has only continued to lose support among California community colleges since the CCSF showdown. Leaders of the state's community college system, for example, last year said that they have lost faith in the ACCJC and are looking for ways to transition to a new accrediting agency.
Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, praised the department's decision, saying it affirmed the union's concerns with the accreditor.