Sunday, March 10, 2013

WILL THE LACCD SCANDALS CONTINUE? 3 San Fernando Valley community colleges must pass accreditation reviews to avoid sanctions

By Dana Bartholomew, Staff Writer, LA Daily News |

3/08/2013 08:08:14 PM PST  ::  They'd sweated countless meetings, performed endless tweaks to their respective colleges and cranked out reams of self-evaluations.

But two years of preparation for accreditation reviews that start Monday at three San Fernando Valley community colleges may not be enough to calm jangled nerves.

If any of them get low ratings, it would add to the woes of the overall Los Angeles Community College District, which already has a third of its campuses facing sanctions.

"Many people cringe at this process," said Anna Davies, vice president of academic affairs at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, which will be visited Monday through Thursday along with L.A. Mission and Valley colleges. "But I am really looking forward to our visit.

"Because I believe we have done all we can to position ourselves to be successful."

The nine-campus LACCD has grappled to meet educational standards since an accreditation commission last summer handed West Los Angeles College a warning and put L.A. Harbor and L.A. Southwest colleges on probation. Those are intermediate sanctions that lead down the road of losing accreditation.

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges sanctioned each school for shortcomings from poor planning to poor websites, from a lack of online studies to new library books, as well as micromanagement by LACCD trustees.

The 33 percent sanction rate in Los Angeles well exceeds the average of 19 percent around the state, where 21 out of 112 community colleges have faced sanctions in the latest round of reviews.

Each school is accredited every six years, with midterm reviews in between.

Failure to remain accredited could cost each school tens of millions in federal loans and grants for students. In addition, each campus credit becomes worthless in transferring to other schools.

Officials at the nation's largest community college district don't believe its campuses will ultimately lose their academic cred.

High sanction rate

But as each school struggles to regain full accreditation, the district's soaring sanction rate will soon be a major issue for its newly elected governing board.

While Pierce College may not be at risk, board members and administrators say, the two other Valley campuses under review could be sanctioned.

They say while L.A. Valley College in Village Glen could be punished for spending more than it took in, L.A. Mission College in Sylmar could get dinged for governance issues and racial tension among faculty and students.

"I'm worried," said Steve Veres, president of the LACCD Board of Trustees. "I'm always concerned about accreditation: it's one of the most important things we do. It's critical. Any recommendations we get, we'll be very thoughtful about addressing (them)."

Some say the problem of campus accreditation from Los Angeles to San Francisco lies not so much with college administrators, faculty and student education. It may also lie with the regional accreditation commission itself, which is under federal pressure to boost campus accountability.

In the last dozen years, critics say the commission, led by Barbara Beno, has issued accreditation sanctions with a vengeance.

Between 2003 and 2008, according to one study, it sanctioned California colleges 16 times more often than other commissions across the nation targeted their region's schools.

Last year, the Novato-based nonprofit issued 48 of the 75 sanctions issued nationwide - meaning 64 percent of the educational black eyes went to California schools that make up just 19 percent of community colleges as a whole.

Focus on reports

A growing number of faculty critics say the accrediting agency doesn't value colleges for their student instruction, but for conducting costly reports, data gathering and reviews of school policies and procedures.

They say the highly secretive agency has promoted its own agenda, while focusing on so-called measurable student learning outcomes in which to gauge student success.

Last July, City College of San Francisco, the state's largest public school was shocked to receive a show cause ruling, with no warning. It was given until this Wednesday to prove why it should stay open.

Among the three levels of sanctions that precede an accreditation loss, show cause is the worst, followed by probation and warning.

A verdict will be issued in June for San Francisco, Los Angeles and community colleges across the state.

"The ACCJC has become a rogue agency," declared former L.A. Valley College professor Martin Hittelman, of Silver Lake, an executive board member of the American Federation of Teachers and author of a 47-page "ACCJC Gone Wild" report. "Everything's done in secret."

Beno did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The Los Angeles district sanctions occurred while the district underwent a severe budget crisis, losing $20 million a year, Veres said. Yet the commission expected the district to boost services, such as online education for students, he said.

"We actually pay more attention to the ACCJC than to the state chancellor, and that is out of whack," he said.

The California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office has created an Accreditation Task Force to address the growing accreditation issue. Meanwhile, the commission, approved by the U.S. Department of Education, is up for its own review in November.

Between Monday and Thursday, a dozen professors tagged by the commission will fan out across Pierce, L.A. Mission and L.A. Valley colleges to compare the campuses according to their nearly 300 page self-evaluations.

The review teams will then compile a report, with a final ruling made by the commission.

Pierce administrators wrote drafts for four categories to be reviewed: its institutional mission and effectiveness; student learning programs; financial resources; and leadership and governance.

"I feel confident that we have prepared ourselves," said Davies, who oversees the affairs of 20,000 students, who qualify for up to $48 million in federal financial aid. "And are doing everything we can to meet the standards."

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