Peralta Community Colleges Receive Accreditation Warnings

Teachers’ union warns of “rogue” accrediting agency

Culinary Arts at Laney College in downtown Oakland.

Culinary Arts at Laney College in downtown Oakland.

By Tulio Ospina

Laney College, Merritt College, College of Alameda and Berkeley City College – the four community colleges that make up the Peralta Community College District – have been issued warnings and imposed probations by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC).

According to the accrediting commission, the Oakland colleges—which serve about 34,000 students in Oakland—must meet a variety of requirements before October 2016 to avoid losing its accreditation from the commission.

Berkeley City College

Berkeley City College

Colleges that are not accredited are not eligible to receive public funding and, as a result, are forced to shut down.

None of the problems that ACCJC has cited against the Peralta district colleges are related to quality of education or teaching standards.

Rather, the accrediting organization is finding fault with the colleges’ bureaucratic processes such as irregular course and personnel assessments, providing online distance learning without gaining proper approval and failing to give appropriate attention to long-term financial planning.

A number of organizations, however, including student groups and college teacher unions, have expressed concerns about the motives and methods of the ACCJC.

According to Edward Jaramillo, president of the Peralta Federation of Teachers (PFT), the teachers’ union is in support of faculty and administration’s efforts to work with the district to review the recommendations.

Merritt College in Oakland

Merritt College in Oakland

“On a larger level, we support the efforts of the California Federation of Teachers to push through legislation and bring more transparency and some guidelines to ACCJC’s process of accreditation,” said Jaramillo.

ACCJC is the organization that nearly revoked accreditation of City College of San Francisco in 2013, causing widespread protests of students, teachers’ unions and community members, ultimately resulting in a court-ordered suspension of the revocation.

While not as dire as City College’s circumstances were back in 2013, Peralta’s situation has brought many to question ACCJC’s interests and draw parallels between the two situations.

“The areas they’re both being attacked in have to do with record keeping and finances,” said Joe Berry, a retired teacher and member of AFT 2121, the faculty union at CCSF.

“Neither one has been about quality of education being delivered to students, whose benefit is the core mission of accreditation bodies in general.”

Berry helped fight against the ACCJC’s actions in 2013 and has noticed many community and junior colleges facing similar issues under their jurisdiction.

“Something is amiss. This is not the pattern anywhere else in the country. It at least wasn’t the pattern in this state until the present administration of ACCJC came to be,” said Berry. “They are engaged in imposing more sanctions in the institutions they are accrediting by a factor of ten than any other (accrediting organization).”

On Tuesday, PFT posted a letter on its website calling upon its members to “help reform the broken community college accreditation system” by calling their state senators and requesting they vote ‘yes’ on two pieces of legislation during next week’s Senate Education Committee.

“AB 1397, the California Community Colleges Fair Accreditation Act of 2015, will force the rogue Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) to have greater transparency, and restrict its ability to issue crippling sanctions like the one it imposed on City College of San Francisco,” says the letter.

Furthermore, “AB 1385, Ending Blank Checks for Accreditation Legal Fees, would prevent the ACCJC from billing community colleges for its mounting legal fees without a vote of the colleges.”

Jeff Heyman, a spokesperson for the Peralta district, confirms that the Peralta colleges are not unique in their accreditation status with ACCJC, referring to nearly 30 colleges that are on their list in some form.

According to Heyman, Peralta’s accrediting issues stem from “a fair amount of recent management turnover, so the institutional memory isn’t there.”

“The district is already addressing OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) and the student assessments,” he said. “It’s been easy to look at the list of requirements, assemble the team and start taking it seriously.”

Meanwhile, Peralta Colleges remain fully accredited, offering all their classes, with every unit transferrable to other colleges.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, July 17, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)