The commission that revoked the accreditation of City College of San Francisco proposed on Wednesday that it rewrite the rulebook to allow the embattled institution up to two more years to meet its accreditation standards.
In a news release, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges revealed its plan to create a new accreditation status: "restoration."
As explained in a draft of the policy, the new status would allow a college whose accreditation had been terminated but that had not reached its effective termination date to apply for restoration. Once an institution applied for the status, its effective termination date would be "rescinded," pending an evaluation by the commission within four months.
If the college could demonstrate the ability to meet the commission’s standards "within the two-year restoration status period," according to the proposal, it would earn restoration status and could continue to operate provisionally as an accredited institution until a final evaluation either restored its accreditation or terminated it immediately.
"This is not a free pass," Dave Hyams, a spokesman for the accrediting commission, said in an interview. "This is not just a blank check for more time, but a careful process of holding the college accountable for bringing in new practices that do meet the standards within two years."
While the commission had set July 31 as the effective date for terminating the college’s accreditation, a judge has blocked the accreditor from taking that step, pending the outcome of a lawsuit scheduled to go to trial in October.
In recent weeks a chorus of higher-education leaders and policy makers has called on the accrediting commission, which is a division of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, to find a way to give the institution more time. Officials at other California community colleges sent a letter to the commission this week saying that the San Francisco college had made "95 percent" of the necessary changes and urging the commission to give it more time.
But late last month, in response to inquiries by U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, the commission released a statement saying it had "made a deliberate judgment" that further extensions of the college’s accreditation "could not be justified" and that it had "no basis" to reverse its decision.
The statement did acknowledge, however, the possibility of reverting the college to "candidacy" status, as if it were an institution applying for accreditation for the first time.
In a statement released on Wednesday along with the proposed policy change, the commission reiterated that it was "steadfast in its decision" to revoke the college’s accreditation and said that action "was clearly warranted." Officials at the college could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
The accrediting commission is soliciting public comment on the proposal for two weeks, as well as seeking the approval of the U.S. Department of Education, before making the language official. While the proposed new policy was created with City College of San Francisco in mind, if approved, any institution accredited by the commission that meets the criteria could apply for the status.
‘A Recipe for Disaster’
The commission’s proposal comes a year after its decision to terminate City College’s accreditation sparked shock and outrage among many higher-education officials and policy makers. The decision led to accusations of conflict of interest, lawsuits from faculty unions, and criticisms of the commission that threatened to spread to the accreditation process itself.
U.S Rep. Jackie Speier, Democrat of California, told the Los Angeles Times in January that "the problem with any institution like the commission is that it’s self-regulated, self-appointed, and accountable to no one." She called that scenario "a recipe for disaster and abuse."
The commission has defended its decision through all the challenges, but Mr. Hyams, the spokesman, said that the proposed new policy had come about because "the commission knew what impact the loss of accreditation would have" on the more than 80,000 students served by City College of San Francisco.
The commissioners were "trying to identify a way to balance that with the need to have CCSF, and all of the colleges, meet the core standards," he said. "This is the method they found."
Indeed, the two-year restoration period that defines the proposed policy is based on the period of time City College officials had estimated it would take them to complete the work needed to bring the institution into compliance. "That’s what the college and others said they need," Mr. Hyams said.
David S. Baime, senior vice president for government relations and research at the American Association of Community Colleges, called the commission’s proposal "a tremendous victory for the students of the college and the citizens of the Bay Area."
The California Community Colleges system expressed cautious optimism shortly after the announcement of the proposed restoration status. A spokesman, Paul Feist, said he was "encouraged" by an initial look at the proposal, but added that system officials wanted to be assured "that any action taken removes the immediate threat of loss of accreditation and allows City College adequate time to come into full compliance."
While the proposed new status would potentially add two years to the process of revoking a noncompliant college’s accreditation, the draft language does state that "an institution may apply for restoration status only one time within a 20-year period."
If an institution lost its accreditation for any reason, including failing to emerge from restoration, the policy states it "must complete again the entire accreditation process."