Since its opening in September of 1935, City College of San Francisco has been a public institution serving both the academic and vocational needs of students.
Originally, City College was part of the San Francisco Unified School District. The fledgling institution had 1,074 students and 74 faculty members. City College separated from the SFUSD in 1970 and expanded to 22 locations, with the largest one being the 56-acre Ocean Campus. Other locations include the Airport Center, Civic Center, Chinatown/Northbeach Center, Downtown Center, John Adams Center, Evans Center, Mission Center, and Southeast Center.
The largest junior and community college in the U.S., City College offers schooling to 87,952 students, 51,209 who are taking credit classes and 36,743 who are not. Students at City College range from 16 to over 70 years old. City College has two divisions: one with programs dedicated to noncredit and one to credit courses.
In a letter issued to City College on July 2, 2012, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) placed City College on Show Cause for not being in compliance with its eligibility requirements and standards. The ACCJC recommended improvements in 14 key areas, with issues related to the institution’s mission statement, planning processes, student learning outcomes, finances, human resources, physical facilities, and governing structures. The ACCJC reported that City College does not have a sound funding base or a sufficient administrative staff with appropriate experience to support the necessary services for an institution of its size, mission, and purpose. The ACCJC also reported that City fails to conduct audits and reports in a timely manner. The ACCJC told City College to satisfy those recommendations by March 15, 2013.
On July 2, 2013, the ACCJC decided that City College had not made adequate improvements. Unless City College officials successfully appeal the decision by proving why accreditation should not have been withdrawn, City College is threatened with losing its accreditation on July 31, 2014; if this happens the state’s largest community college and a key resource of San Francisco will no longer have “quality assurance.” Without accreditation, the college and students who attend it will not qualify for federal or state financial aid nor will they be able to successfully transfer their credits.
City College provides an educational opportunity to people who can’t afford four year colleges, to those looking to transfer after two years into four year universities, and to immigrants who need to build their skills. In addition, City College offers over 140 programs that give adults the chance to train or retrain themselves in different work
fields. These programs range from dental health and nursing to engineering, technology, and cinema.
Lick’s Relationship with CCSF
The students and faculty at Lick-Wilmerding High School have greatly benefited from City College, through use of both the althetics facilities and academic programs. The City College sports facilities, in fact, are a key aspect of Lick’s athletic program.
When previous Head of School, Dr. Al Adams, signed a contract with City College in December 2010, both sides agreed that LWHS would pay $1.5 million “up front,” pay another $1.5 million to build the Community Health and Wellness Center, and pay $120,000 a year for 25 years with a CPI escalator increase in return for ten prescribed hours a week of access for all LWHS sports teams for 25 years. The contract was later extended for 9 additional years, until 2042, with an upfront payment as opposed to an annual lease fee.
Al Adams thought that this contract was great and that the relationship between LWHS and City College was mutual. When asked about the impact of City College losing its accreditation, he said that it would be a “tragedy to lose city college, especially since the 2008 economic crash. City College is a financially affordable school, a pathway to a UC, and enables people to gain the skills that they need so they can improve their lives and have better jobs…not always a degree but a lot of times just skills; it improves their lives.”
When asked about if he agreed with the accreditation committee’s decisions, he said, “Oh my goodness gracious no, but way beyond Lick-Wilmerding. It is critically important for people to have access to City College. Many of these are younger students but many are adults who are needing to retrain. So much of it is related for people being able to be employed.”
LWHS students have not only been taking advantage of the athletic facilities at City College, but also of the classes there that LWHS does not offer.
“City College is a really good way to explore other topics that might not be offered at Lick,” said Sabrina Larsen ‘15 who takes an American Sign Language course at City College. “It’s nice to know that right across the street there are so many options and courses to learn from. There is a diverse group people taking classes there, not just students, but adults too.”
LWHS Head of School Eric Temple predicts that if City College were to lose its accreditation, “Most likely another college will come in and take over. We believe that our relationship points to a guarantee of some sort, but it’s not a hundred percent that we would continue to be able to use the facilities”
The future of City College remains in question, but if it does shut down, Eric Temple is prepared. “We do have a plan B. It’s like the emergency plan that we would hopefully not have to ever use, but we did do that once we heard. Up until 5 years ago we bussed students to various fields and went to Balboa for swimming, so we can go back to that model. We’ve done all the math and budgeting so if we had to do that we could. I really don’t believe we will, but we have done our homework so that we would be ready for that if we needed to.”
Eric Temple says that City College has kept him in the loop, for Lick is one institution that will be greatly affected by the decision made in July 2014. He says, “The conversation is just really trying to keep the lines of communication open so that we’re informed of any changes and their status. They believe that they will be able to stay accredited at this point. We’re just paying close attention, trying to lend support where we can.”
LWHS’s relationship with City College has been “a healthy relationship. It’s the same as it’s been
for the last 5 years or 6 years,” says Temple. He hopes this trend will continue . However, he could not fully disclose all conversations that he’s had with City College.
Rose Heller, a former Lick Parent, works for the Writing Success, a federally funded program that helps students succeed in their English classes at City College. Heller is very passionate about the effort to maintain accreditation beyond 2014 because of City College’s long legacy of service to the city.
“The quality of the education has always gotten high marks, that was not under criticism,” says Heller. “Most of the changes are happening with governance and administration, but they’re not in the classrooms per say; the classrooms are very strong and solid.”
Although faculty members are distressed by the accreditation commission’s decision, one faculty member says he has a problem not as much with the ACCJC’s recommendations, but with its process in addressing City College. “I agree with
all of the deficiencies identified. My issues are with the process that’s involved in terms of the ACCJC’s unclear communication and ambiguous use of language,” says Craig Kleinman, a full time English Teacher at City College since 1996. “Had we been on probation, I’d have no issue with being put on show cause. But going right to the worst thing seems very hasty, at the least.”
Karen Saginor, a librarian and member of the Academic Senate at City College, reports that the Academic Senate is working to reduce its mission statement and offer fewer classes, reducing the institution’s financial struggle. However, Saginor mentions that the classes that have been suggested for discontinuation are state-funded; if these classes are no longer provided, the state will not provide as much monetary support, therefore leaving City College in its current financial state.
Saginor also describes the Senate’s work with the City College administration to write a master education plan, including a policy describing the process for discontinuing programs at City College.
“We’re required to have a policy for what happens if a program discontinues,” says Saginor. “The college does not have a written policy for what would happen to a discontinued program; that’s something that the academic senate basically wrote and took to the administration.”
The potential closure of City College will have a tremendous economic impact on San Francisco. On Wednesday, September 18, 2013, San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar at the Budget and Finance Committee highlighted an economic impact report of the potential closure of City College.
“This is a groundbreaking study that the legislative analyst office has currently completed,” said Mar at the opening of the hearing. “City college generates over $311 million per year in economic activity for our city.”
According to Severin Campbell, a Principal at the Office of the Budget and Legislative Analyst which prepared the report, upwards of 2400 faculty, who won jobs at City College despite a 6% hiring rate of qualified applicants, face having to move into a tight job market in the Bay Area.
Addressing the impact of the potential loss of accreditation on students, Campbell said that if City College were to close, many students who haven’t graduated from high school could struggle obtaining a high school equivalency diploma. This would result in an estimated $9,000 decrease in average wages per year for each student. Campbell said the closure of City College would result in an even greater $13,500 loss per year for non-English speaking students.
Many City College students would be eligible for transfer; however, a degree elsewhere comes at a greater cost. The difference in tuition if students transferred to a California State University is approximately $10,000 over two years.
“The $10,000 more in tuition might be a huge barrier that would close the doors to many people that utilize City College”, said Mar when responding to the findings at the hearing.
Who will save City College? With the suspension of the elected City College Board of Trustees and subsequent appointment of Robert Agrella, a “special trustee” with unilateral powers, many feel that it is also the responsibility of the City & County of San Francisco to take action.
Will San Francisco’s city government intervene to save City College? Just days after the
determination to remove accreditation, District Six Supervisor Jane Kim tried to engage Mayor Ed Lee’s help. Kim asked a question of Mayor Ed Lee during the Board of Supervisors’ July 9th, 2013 meeting; the Mayor’s unenthusiastic response has disappointed both community members and elected officials. “It wasn’t a big splash,” said District 11 Supervisor John Avalos, referring to the Mayor’s response.
Save CCSF, a coalition of students, staff, and members of the community fighting to retain CCSF as a college that offers affordable and quality educational opportunities, has repeatedly attempted to meet with the mayor, but their efforts have been rejected. “I’m not so sure that’s the best use of time,” said Lee on the efforts of Save CCSF.
On August 20, 2013, students staged a rally in front of the Mayor’s office seeking the Mayor’s support; however, the Mayor was not present to meet with them.
“The mayor has not been as public in regards to his involvement,” said Hydra Mendoza, the Mayor’s Education and Family Services Advisor “There’s a lot of work being done behind the scenes.”
Will City College’s appeal save it? According to the ACCJC, City College of San Francisco has the right to request a review of the Commission’s adverse actions. City College supporters now await the results of an invariably prolonged appeal process. This appeal could actually last beyond the termination of accreditation in July of 2014, in which case City College would be accredited until the end of the appeal.
“We are pursuing a review and appeal process,” said Gohar Momjian, the Accreditation Liaison Officer for City College of San Francisco. “The decision is not final.”
San Francisco community members await the decision that the Accreditation committee will make in July of 2014. Efforts have been made to contact the ACCJC, but the committee did not provide direct comment and only provided an FAQ web page.