(Sacramento, CA) – The California State Assembly Committee passed legislation authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) to ensure fairness, objectivity and transparency in the accreditation process affecting California’s community colleges. The vote occurred while our accreditor – the San Rafael-based Accreditation Commission on Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) – meets behind closed doors this week. Ting’s legislation moves to the State Senate for further review.
“We need education to be the great equalizer in our society but that role is compromised when education standards are enforced unfairly, arbitrarily, and in secret,” said Ting. “We need these reforms to end abuses of power from our accreditor. Sweeping change is needed that put the needs of our students first.”
Accreditation is a stamp of approval ensuring that students get a quality education. For California’s 112 community colleges serving 2.1 million students, accreditation review is required to receive public funds for operations and financial aid. Every 6 years, schools must go through the process in which teams of teachers and administrators evaluate them according to education standards and have the ACCJC vote on their accreditation status.
Ting’s AB 1397 passed 56-16. It enacts sweeping accreditation process reforms based on critical findings about the ACCJC from the California State Auditor, the U.S. Department of Education and a California Superior Court ruling.
- Avoiding Conflicts of Interest – The bill stipulates accreditation evaluation teams cannot include anyone affiliated with the Commission or the college under review. From 2009-2014, the auditor found that just 2 of 14 colleges under review were sanctioned in cases when the college was also represented by a sitting Commissioner.
- Protecting Due Process – The bill requires a right of appeal for sanctioned colleges and the ACCJC to show why sanctions are issued. The auditor found the ACCJC denies appeals for most sanctions, a unique practice among its peers, and sanctions over 4 times the rate of other accreditors.
- Ensuring Public Access and Accountability – The bill requires public access to ACCJC biannual meetings and sufficient time for public comment before accreditation decisions are made. The bill also requires meeting minutes to be posted online. None of this is current practice.
Ting’s AB 1385 passed 55-18. It gives community colleges a tool to hold the ACCJC accountable. The ACCJC is funded in part by annual assessments on colleges in its jurisdiction, which includes all of California. If a college refuses to pay, its accreditation is lost. This sets up a blank check dynamic because the ACCJC sanctions colleges over four times more than peer accreditors, which foments litigation. AB 1385 gives colleges the right to vote on assessments for ACCJC legal fees. This would function as a referendum on the 5 percent assessment increase last year which may be repeated this year.
In January of 2014, the U.S. Department of Education identified fifteen areas where ACCJC was failing to comply with federal accreditation standards.
In January of 2015, in the matter of the People of the State of California v ACCJC, Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow ruled that ACCJC broke the law and regulations in four key ways:
- There were not enough academics on ACCJC's 2012 visiting teams that evaluated City College (there was one);
- Not enough attention was paid to conflicts of interest with ACCJC commissioners;
- ACCJC violated federal regulations by not giving CCSF due process in the accreditation decision; and
- ACCJC failed to properly notify CCSF of accreditation termination, which violated common law.
Here’s what supporters of AB 1397 and AB 1385 are saying.
“The accreditation process should ensure that the ACCJC is basing their decisions on accurate information. Thus, our system of peer-based accreditation should welcome transparency in the decisions regarding the accredited status of our community colleges. Ironically, what we ask of our students in the classroom and of our colleges is neither encouraged nor desired by our accreditor when assessing a college to ensure it meets accreditation standards.”
- Mike Claire, President of the College of San Mateo and prior chair of college accreditation review teams
Students deserve better. Accreditation should be about protecting our needs while going to college to get ahead. When accreditation decisions are made in secret, our voices are silenced and our futures are put at risk. City College faced closure from decisions made in secret. No one should have that power without having to justify it in the open when the education of over seventy thousand students is threatened.”
- Shanell Williams, Student Trustee, City College of San Francisco’s Board of Trustees
“Different rules should not exist for different schools. Yet, this is common practice. Community Colleges throughout California have been unfairly caught up in this arbitrary system, which is cause for concern. The nine Los Angeles Community College campuses and the District will be visited by ACCJC teams next year. By reforming the accreditation process, these bills will help ensure California community colleges, including those in the LACCD, are subject to a credible peer review process and that the outcome is fair and justified.”
-Joanne Waddell, President of AFT Local 1521, which represents teachers in the Los Angeles Community Colleges District
"California's community colleges need to have an accreditation process that is fair, objective and transparent. City College of San Francisco's accreditation saga has been extreme but not unique. ACCJC has created a statewide culture of fear. Without these simple and reasonable reforms there is nothing to prevent colleges across the state from suffering the same fate as CCSF."
-Tim Killikelly, President of AFT Local 2121, which represents teachers at City College of San Francisco
Further information about AB 1385 and AB 1397 is available at www.leginfo.ca.gov.
CONTACT: Anthony Matthews (Ting), tel. (916) 319-2019