City College of San Francisco's 85,000 students will lose their affordable public community college if its accreditation is revoked as scheduled. Some of the problems found by the regional Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges were indeed serious, but the situation also illustrates some of the problems with the accreditation process. It is at times focused more on disciplining schools and obscure governance deficiencies than on the educational issues that matter most.
The commission's decision doesn't go into effect for a year, during which time the college can appeal or work so quickly to improve that it can persuade the commission to reverse the decision. After receiving notice last year that its status was in peril, the college made improvements, but its efforts satisfied the commission in only two of 14 areas. Loss of accreditation would mean no more state funding — and therefore no more college.
The commission found severe shortcomings along with smaller, more peripheral ones that have little to do with whether students are actually receiving a good education. Among the worst: The college's elected board had failed to reduce expenses sufficiently; reserves were adequate for only three days of operations. It failed to track student outcomes. Some faculty members were intimidated by others.