CCSF accreditation requirements put students on edge
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City College of San Francisco student Mireya Leon graduated from high school only a few months ago, but she already has a dream: Transferring to SF State to study music therapy.
“I want to heal people with my music,” Leon said. “Music has the power to make people feel better.”
But Leon’s ability to transfer to the four-year college in the city of her birth may be in jeopardy.
CCSF is on the brink of closure. If it shuts down, a vital bridge between San Francisco high schools and SF State could go with it. Nearly a thousand students from City College who transfer to San Francisco State each year will be displaced, and school officials have no hard data on where else they could go.
CCSF is home to 85,000 students and provides more transfer students to SF State than any other community college in California, 800 per year, according to SF State internal data. Last July the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges, a body that gives accreditation to community colleges in California, told CCSF that it did not meet the requirements to keep its degree accreditation. It has until March 14 to meet certain financial and academic standards to stay accredited. A college without accreditation can’t grant degrees worth anything more than paper — forcing CCSF to either close, or be taken over by another college district.
SF high school seniors stay local
“If you’re a senior in one of San Francisco’s (19) high schools, odds are, you’re going to City College or SF State,” Maureen Carew, director of the Bridge to Success program, said.
Bridge to Success works to smooth the transition from high school to college for graduating San Francisco Unified School District seniors. Carew considers herself a self proclaimed “champion of City College.”
Approximately one-in-four of SFUSD’s 4,000 graduating seniors sign up for City College every year, Carew said. Conversely, one-in-ten go to SF State. When City College closes, how those numbers will change is up in the air.
“If (SF State) would let them in, they would go there,” Carew said. “But (SF State) is impacted. There are definitely students who would choose to go (to SF State). We don’t have data on that.”
No one from the SFUSD, City College or SF State, have data tracking how students move between the three institutions altogether, or where they would go as an alternative at any step in that sequence.
SF State’s Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management Jo Volkert hesitated to speculate on the impact CCSF’s closing would have on a student’s ability to transfer.
“It is important to remember that not all 85,000 CCSF students or even all 45,000 in credit bearing classes are planning to transfer to SF State or another 4 year institution,” Volkert said. “I’m sure at least some of the students will be able to complete their lower division courses at other community colleges in the region, just as many students already take courses at multiple colleges now.”
Volkert said that even if SF State got fewer transfer students, their state funding would still be protected.
“If the number of local admits goes down because of a decline from CCSF, we would then be able to admit more out-of-area students to still reach the target,” Volkert said. “It is a balancing process between the two populations.”
Lindy McKnight, dean of counseling and student services at CCSF, said she expects if the school closes, CCSF students would likely attend surrounding colleges in Berkeley and San Mateo, and still transfer to a four-year school.
There is one real world example of a community college closing, though: Compton College in Southern California. Contrary to the idea that students would simply attend surrounding colleges when their college closes, the closure of Compton College shows a much darker view of what could happen to CCSF students.
Shadows of Compton
Compton College is one of the only community colleges to lose its accreditation in recent history. It became a part of the nearby El Camino Community College District in 2006. El Camino took over administrative operations for all classes at Compton.
After Compton lost its accreditation nearly half of their students left the college, according to enrollment data from the state community college chancellor’s office. One school official said that they didn’t come back.
“We looked at two or three colleges around Compton, and none of us had a significant increase in students from the Compton district coming here,” Ann Garten, media relations director for El Camino College, said in an interview with CCSF’s “The Guardsman” newspaper editor Sara Bloomberg. “So our president’s concern was, ‘wow, we now have individuals that aren’t going anywhere. We can’t let this happen, we have to step in.’”
Once El Camino took over Compton enrollment was backed up, but only after three years.
Enrollment at Compton college went from a low of 6,000 students, in 2006, all the way back up to just over 12,000 students in 2009, closer to their enrollment numbers before they lost accreditation.
With 45,000 students enrolled in credit classes, CCSF has a lot more students to lose. If those students don’t go to a surrounding community college, as happened with Compton, a vital conduit to SF State would be lost.
Students from CCSF have another unique barrier to attending other colleges: transportation. Leon, SF State music therapy hopeful, said that if she wasn’t able to go to City College for her transfer credits, she would have trouble attending San Mateo’s community college or nearby Skyline because of the long public transit commutes.
She’s not alone. SFUSD graduate and second semester CCSF student Kimberly Rodriguez, 18, felt the same way.
“I live on 16th and Mission. I’m around a lot of gang violence,” Rodriguez said. “When things go on, I’m not allowed to go out.”
Carew said that even if students did adapt by going to other colleges, students may still suffer. Data from tracking the college careers of SFUSD’s graduating seniors, she said, suggests they have a better chance of performing well in college if they go somewhere local.
“There’s a lot of theories around that,” she said. “They’re in their own city, they’re not going through culture shock, they have support from their family.”
In order to better track the progression of SFUSD students on their journey from graduation, to City College enrollment, to transferring to SF State, all of those schools have started contributing to an unprecedented data project. Carew and her counterparts at all of those schools are handing their enrollment data over to the John W. Gardner Center for Youth of Stanford University, which will track students success and failure as they move between multiple schools.
“Just last month, San Francisco State signed an agreement with the John Gardner center,” Carew said. “We’re going to be able to tell all sorts of things, like how many (SFUSD) students go to City College and transfer to San Francisco State.”
That data, however, won’t begin to come together until after the 2013-14 school year. When asked if there was sufficient data as of now to assess if the 800 annual CCSF transfers to SF State would still find a way to transfer if CCSF closed, Volkert had only this to say: “There is no data because this circumstance has never happened before in San Francisco.”
SFSU President Leslie E. Wong said the university is actively seeking out what role it can play in helping CCSF.
“The issue will be the large number of, for example, first-year students who haven’t met (transfer) requirements,” Wong told Xpress in an exclusive interview. “What happens to them? That’s a big issue.”
“We’re certainly talking and gathering information and we’re asking ourselves what we are allowed to do,” he said. “What can we do?”
For now, students and administrators from San Francisco all have one thing in common — when it comes to what happens next for CCSF and its students, they’re flying in the dark.