A Big School Can Lose Accreditation…sort of.
By Professor Doom
Before finishing up my discussion of faculty, I want to talk about rarity in higher education: a school losing accreditation.
City College of San Francisco (CCSF) had its accreditation revoked, effective July of 2014. This is an amazing event, especially considering the kind of hijinks I’ve seen at schools, with nary a hint of concern from an accrediting body.
The best article I can find on the de-accreditation is at Academe Blog; it doesn’t really represent the accrediting body’s side, but I get the salt shaker (for the taking of grains of salt, recommended when reading anything online) and read. There is much to read between the lines.
Academe: “CCSF, with 85,000 current students and…more than 2,700 faculty and staff…”
Most “faculty and staff” are staff nowadays (thirty years ago, faculty were a majority on campus, but we’re a shrinking minority now), but even if there are 1350 faculty on campus, this gives a student-faculty ratio of over 60 to 1. That’s about triple the usual ratio—that ratio is heavily manipulated, but I’m just looking at the numbers here. CCSF, like every other “open admission low content college,” has probably been growing quickly the last few years. Time and again I’ve had more students crammed into my classes than I’ve had desks. Admin gives me an “attaboy” and asks me to be professional about dealing with the students standing in the back...and gives itself a pay raise for all the growth. Many students only show up the first few days, or as soon as the check comes in, so it’s not a long term issue, I admit.
Without accreditation, CCSF will have to close, because only accredited schools can get the federal student loan money that is the lifeblood of these types of institutions. Academe puts some money numbers out, and once again it’s good to read between the lines.
Academe: “huge state budget cuts amounting over several years to $53 million to an institution with an annual budget of $200 million”
Wow, they cut 53 million bucks out of a $200 million budget. At the high end, that’s spending over $2000 per student, or $1,000 a semester. That’s more than tuition when I was in college, not that this budget money goes to tuition, which students still have to pay. If the budget was all salary, that would be an average salary of over $70,000 per faculty/staff (and you can bet most of it goes to administration). Still, with so much taken out of the budget, that should be pretty devastating to the college, which nevertheless committed to building “extravagant” off-campus centers via bonds —growth is everything! Of course, the money spent on those centers (and other campus buildings) doesn’t come from the budget, it comes from bonds, which is why I figure most of the budget goes to salaries. Add in the money raked in by tuition via student loans, and we’re talking a fortune here. No hints where that money goes, however. It’s so funny that private schools with but a few thousand students can function quite well with just tuition, but public schools with 85,000 students need extra state and federal money to survive. Why doesn’t anyone notice how larger government institutions aren’t remotely as efficient as smaller private ones?
The reasons for the planned loss of accreditation are given:
Academe: “…concerns were not really about education but about finances, administration, and assessment.”
While the article is one-sided, I don’t reach for a grain of salt here, this is consistent with what I discussed in my line-by-line analysis of accreditation in my blog. Accreditation has nothing to do with education, so you can’t lose accreditation by providing bogus educations. The article says CCSF gives legitimate education, and even implies some documentation. Good for them! Too bad accreditation doesn’t care about education.
Finances are part of accreditation, but pretty much all these schools are in the same boat as far as finances: as soon as the easy student loan gravy train comes to a stop, they’re all doomed. They simply can’t exist without pulling in loads of suckers to indebt themselves for useless degrees. Pretty much any school could be de-accredited with this excuse. No business can survive when it has exactly one customer.
“Yet of the seventeen review team members who visited CCSF, thirteen were active or retired college administrators, one was a trustee, and only three were faculty.”
--From an American Association of University Professors article on CCSF. Again, the AAUP has an agenda, but this is consistent with my own investigations on how accreditation evaluation goes: it’s all run by administration.
Administration is a big part of accreditation, so I can see that being part of a complaint. In this case, the complaint is there just aren’t enough administrators. As though the bloat of administration weren’t bad enough, a school can actually lose accreditation without sufficient numbers of them. Consider how nuts that is: the school has been running for years with “insufficient” administration and can even show it’s providing good education, so obviously the administrators and their huge salaries aren’t needed. It’s pretty stupid that administrators are in a position to decide if administrators are needed, but that’s accreditation. I use “decide” loosely, as they always need more, no real decision there.
Assessment is the other complaint, namely the college hasn’t been providing any. Things need to be quantified to satisfy accreditation, and course grades can’t be used (understandable, since the average college grade now is A-). So, instead of grades, some other quantification, “assessment,” is necessary. Accreditation doesn’t care what it is, or if it shows any learning occurs, they just want data, no matter how crappy and fraudulent it is. At my school, we have the professors grade assignments they make up for their own students, and turn it in as an assessment. We fill up boxes and boxes of this crap. No complaints from accreditation, but I just can’t see how this is any more legitimate than just using course grades as assessments (I discuss this in more detail elsewhere). Nonetheless, the college hasn’t produced these assessments, most likely because they’re trying to come up with something that is legitimate, feasible, and that faculty are willing to do considering it’s all just going into boxes to be warehoused (next to the Ark of the Covenant, I suppose).
Lightly glossed over in the article is how slow the process of losing accreditation is. In order to be threatened with the loss of accreditation NEXT year, the institution had to first fail to respond THIS year to issues raised LAST year, if not longer ago. Reading between the lines again, an institution can operate completely fraudulently (not that this is the case with CCSF) for three full years before losing accreditation—three years of student loans sucked in, with no possible thing to show for it. Even more amazing, the students are still on the hook for money paid in to a de-accredited school. This is assuming, of course, that the accrediting body doesn’t change its mind about taking away accreditation.
If this de-accreditation actually takes place (my money is on “nope, too big to fail”), it’s going to be a huge disaster. I wish the students and faculty well, but I really hope the folks at the college would sit down and ask themselves if they really think they’re doing more good than harm. Considering a rally in support of CCSF drew “about 200” supporters (out of nearly 90,000 people that will be devastated by this), I think maybe quite a few have asked that question, and decided that closing down the school was just not worth protesting. My salt shaker is untouched today, as I read nothing that doesn’t taste true.
Student loan money can only go to students at accredited institutions. The most glaring question about this debacle is: of what conceivable use is accreditation if it gives no guarantee of legitimate education, and no protection whatsoever to the customers, the students, if taken away for reasons that don’t even relate to the students? I reiterate: students will still have to pay back that loan money, even if the school gets de-accredited, and their degrees/coursework rendered null and void.
Think about it.