The accreditation woes of City College of San Francisco are the closest thing higher education has to a soap opera. Like any soap opera, it can be hard to jump in midstream, so here is my recap of the story so far for those of you just joining us:
- In order for students to have access to federal financial aid, their college must be accredited.
- To get accredited, a college is evaluated by a team of peers (mostly made up of staff from other colleges and the accrediting organization).
- Since most colleges are heavily reliant on federal financial aid money, the loss of accreditation is usually a death knell for the school.
- City College of San Francisco’s accreditor is threatening to revoke the college’s accreditation.
While accreditation is slowly becoming more transparent, it is still largely a behind-closed-doors affair, leaving the rest of us largely ill-equipped to weigh in on the matter. The one contribution I can make concerns the college’s student loan default rate, which is 20.3 percent. This is fairly standard for two-year colleges (the median for the colleges I have data for is 19.5 percent). However, if a college had the same types of students that City College enrolls (percent Pell and percent part time), the typical two-year college would have a default rate of only 16.2 percent. In other words, City College of San Francisco’s student loan default rate is 4.1 percentage points higher than is typical, given the types of students it enrolls. This supports the case for denying the college accreditation, but I ultimately have no idea whether City College of San Francisco should be accredited or not. More importantly, I don’t think anyone else knows either. Many certainly have an opinion on the matter, but I would argue that they are basing their judgment on inappropriate standards applied inconsistently. As I noted in another recent accreditation case:
“All that really matters is whether [the college] is educating students or not. But accreditors don’t monitor that, instead they focus on inputs, processes and governance. It would be one thing if there was one set of inputs, one set of processes, and one governance structure that was known to produce strong educational outcomes. In that case, basing accreditation on those inputs, processes and governance would be acceptable. But there is no one set of inputs, processes, and governance structure that are guaranteed to produce the best educational outcomes, so it is inappropriate to base accreditation decisions on them. Bluntly stated… [accreditors’] standards on inputs, processes and governance structure are neither necessary nor sufficient to ensure adequate educational outcomes.”
Photo Credit: Inside Higher Ed