By Dr. Steven Kinsella
Accreditation of colleges and universities has been part of American higher education quality assurance for more than a century. It is designed to protect students, taxpayers who fund colleges and the wider community from low-quality or even fraudulent education institutions.
Accreditation assures students and others that the credits, certificates and degrees it awards will be of value to students and to employers. Each college or university is periodically reviewed to determine whether it meets published standards of quality and specific federal requirements for eligibility for federal funds. When an institution falls short, it is given limited time to improve and comply. If it does not meet standards, an institution is not permitted to achieve or maintain accredited status.
Accrediting agencies are reviewed every five years by the U.S. Department of Education to ensure the agency meets federal regulations. Agencies that meet federal requirements are given “recognition,” though not all accreditors are able to achieve recognition. During the USDE review of any agency, all stakeholders — community leaders, students, college administrators, faculty and classified personnel — are encouraged to provide feedback to the USDE through the department’s call for third party comment.
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges is recognized by the USDE. The commission has practiced continuous self-improvement since its formation in 1962 and, to encourage community input, it also has policy and procedure for comments and complaints and, during periods when it is revising standards, for ideas about what should change.
The ACCJC welcomes comment by third parties such as the Board of Governors or the public. The commission reports its accreditation actions and policy changes twice per year to the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, the California Community College System and, now, the legislature. While ACCJC shares information about its work and welcomes constructive criticism, its accreditation actions on institutions are required by federal regulations to be separate from state oversight and independent from external influence by college constituency groups and related organizations.
While Assembly Bill 404 is spurred by the recent debates about City College of San Francisco, it is important to distinguish between constructive comment and suggestions for change, and unwarranted critique. The February 17, 2015 decision by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow ruled the allegations about the ACCJC, its commissioners and its staff were unproven.
Among the many findings Judge Karnow made were: no inadequacies in the ACCJC conflict of interest policy; no conflict of interest or apparent conflict of interest with the 2012 CCSF volunteer-peer evaluation team; no wrongdoing by the ACCJC and its staff.
The court ruled, however, that the commission made an error in not informing the institution in advance of its noncompliance with 10 standards, and ordered ACCJC to undertake a process to remedy that error. That process is ongoing.
The ACCJC remains committed to fulfilling its purpose — to assure the institutions it accredits meet accreditation standards, and beyond that, strive to improve quality. Our communities’ students are best equipped for success when colleges offer the best in curriculum, pedagogy, support services, facilities, and instructional technologies, and when colleges are financially stable with governance focused on providing quality education to students.
Dr. Steven Kinsella, ACCJC Chair, began his service on the Commission in July 2010. He has been President/Superintendent at Gavilan College for the last 12 years. Dr. Kinsella has worked in community college higher education for 23 years.