City College of San Francisco Enrollment Plunges After Threatened Accreditation Loss

City College protest
Protestors recently marched on City Hall to urge officials to step in to help save the City College of San Francisco. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

By Alex Emslie

City College of San Francisco is facing a heavy loss of students following the announcement early this month that the school’s accreditation will be terminated next summer if a review and appeal don’t reverse the decision.

Enrollment is down 14.9 percent compared to the same time last year, and with classes starting in just three weeks, instructors across the college are worried their sections will be cut.

“That’s a significant number, and we are doing everything that we can to get the word out that we’re open, accredited and registering,” said Jennifer Aries, a marketing consultant directing the school’s enrollment push.

Indeed, the words “OPEN” and “ACCREDITED” are showing up all over San Francisco, emblazoned on a bright red background next to a City College logo. The ads shout to “ENROLL NOW!” on the school’s website. They’re in newspapers, on fliers, radio, local cable, social media and even billboards, according to City College’s marketing and public information department.

But the ad campaign hasn’t had much effect yet. The percentage of students lost between last year and this has hovered between 12 and 15 percent since enrollment opened on June 25, meaning the actual number of students lost is growing by the day. As of yesterday there were 3,414 fewer students enrolled compared to the same time last year.

Some classes that are usually full by now have just a few students, said City College faculty union president Alisa Messer, who’s been fielding calls from panicked teachers.

“All over the campus, there are huge concerns,” she said. Messer and other faculty are desperately recruiting students themselves, quick to point out that City College’s accreditation crisis stems from governance, budgeting, student tracking and administrative issues, and not from quality of education.

Messer fears the enrollment drop could have long lasting impacts even if the school manages to overturn its loss of accreditation. She said enrollment was down 15 percent last year, too. City College shed close to 9,000 students between 2010 and 2012.

“Not only are we losing students who had learned to count on City College of San Francisco and deserve to have access to that education, but at the same time, we’re losing long-term enrollment,” Messer said. “And what we’ve seen in other places that have had this sort of spiral begin around enrollment is that it’s very hard to get out.”

San Francisco officials are bracing for what a closed or drastically downsized City College would mean for the city. The Board of Supervisors Audit and Oversight Committee is holding a hearing today to discuss what city officials can do to help the college.

Some college faculty aren’t waiting for government support, though, and they’re taking the enrollment push into their own hands.

Latin American Studies Department Chair Edgar Torres said he just finished making fliers to post around campus advertising a class he’s worried may get cut. He said classes need to reach a 20-student benchmark before instruction begins to guarantee they will be offered.

“It’s a misunderstanding, because they’re fearful,” Torres said, adding he’s worried about reaching non-English speaking City College students. “They just see the headlines that we’re closing. Now convincing them that they should stay here is a longer battle.”

Torres said cut classes will likely mean layoffs for part-time instructors.

Other 2-year colleges are also seeing lower enrollment than last year, indicating not all of City College’s student shortfall is due to its accreditation troubles. The Peralta Community College District’s enrollment is down 7.5 percent from the same time last year, according to district spokesman Jeff Heyman.

“Community colleges in general see lower enrollments when the economy is good and higher enrollments when the economy is bad,” he said, adding that Peralta expects its enrollment gap to shrink as the school’s fall outreach gets into full swing.

City College instructors aren’t as confident. Journalism instructor Tom Graham wrote a “plea from City College faculty, staff and students” on Facebook Tuesday, urging people to sign up early instead of waiting until after instruction begins to add and swap classes.

“If you were thinking about waiting until Spring 2014 to take a journalism course, please reconsider,” he wrote. “The Journalism Department needs your support NOW.”

Related

  • Rikoshay

    Well, whoever “the marketing consultant directing the school’s enrollment push” is ( quoted in the above article ) I am sure that individual is being payed pretty well but clearly failing to meet the challenges of the task .( albeit a difficult task ). Problem is, students don’t need to be told CCSF is open and enrolling for fall. They know this. Among the essential items CCSF failed to recognize early

    in this tragedy is that its students are its greatest strength. By pleading with students to enroll in classes, and reassuring them that everything is OK, the college degrades its principal constituency: its students. Overall, the attitude of all CCSF governing bodies, along with many faculty and administrators toward students is condescending. Students recognize the gravity of the situation but there has been an utter failure in accepting them as equals in this

    ongoing conflict. Rather than plead with students to enroll, the College should be pleading with them to help the College fight back against the ACCJC and WASC, Unfortunately, it may already be too late to make amends

  • student

    Rikoshay– Many of the students DON’T know this. There’s a lot of confusion about what’s happening. I’ve talked to a lot of my fellow students who think that a loss of accreditation in the future will wipe out all the work they’ve done up til then, when in fact, all credits achieved up to the theoretical loss of accreditation would be transferable indefinitely.

    It’s not the students’ fault for this misunderstanding, for most of the news stories about this have been very poorly researched and written.

    Enrollment decline is exactly what the ACCJC is trying to achieve, as this would “prove” them right. Enrollment decline can lead to a death spiral of declining state and federal funds, fewer course offerings, less enrollment, which would lead to further decline in state and federal funds, fewer course offerings, fewer students, etc

    I agree that the “college” should encourage students to fight back against the ACCJC and WASC, but who is the “college” at this point? Much of the faculty is afraid to go on record taking a stand; they’re already pilloried and demonized in the press, and such a position guarantees negative press for them in the biased media, and a one-way ticket to unemployment at the hands of Czar Agrella.

    • Rik

      Indirectly, are you saying these individuals are cowards? True or not, the people you refer to will most likely be Part Time faculty who are vulnerable and
      easily intimidated. Worse are the “tenured” faculty who have sat back with
      a “can’t happen here” attitude. They should have been far more vigilant in standing up for their very vulnerable counterparts long ago. The AFT has done its best – a noble job at that – but there are far too many CCSF faculty
      who won’t wake up until the paychecks stop pouring in and all tenure rights
      ( not just the rights the AFT has been able to grind out PT faculty ) have
      vanished.

      • student

        The problem with what the faculty “should have” done, is that this is an unprecedented situation (it’s not comparable to the Compton business). No one knew how intent the secretive and power-drunk ACCJC was on shutting CCSF down, come hell or high water, and that the agenda of the ACCJC IS to shut down California colleges that don’t go along with the neo-liberal, privatization corporate model.

  • student1

    lol, this institution needs to disappear and stop scamming students with false promises of jobs and high quality education.

    • an actual student

      lol @ yourself, troll.

      “false promises of jobs”
      Right, all those tens of thousands of nurses, lab and medical techs, engineers, firemen, policemen, computer techs, gourmet chefs and bakers, hoteliers, aircraft techs, etc, who have CCSF AAs and work in their chosen field don’t really exist.

      And the tens of thousands of UC and State transfer grads don’t exist, either.

      Back to the Heritage Foundation, with you, troll!

      • formerCCSFstudent

        but isn’t it really shady of them to go around advertising (i see them all day long) saying “COME ENROLL WE ARE ACCREDITED” where as far as they know – they wont be? it just seems pretty disingenuous and scammy. They would literally sell me milk they know is expiring tomorrow. I know you could just say “go back to monsanto” or whatever to me too, but really think about how dick it is for them to ask people to come enroll. if they were a credit card company, you would complain, and i would agree, that some consumer protection should be in place saying “warning, everything you do here will amount to nothing in a semester”

        • student

          You don’t get it: they ARE accredited NOW. Any classes taken NOW will be transferable FOREVER.

          It iis CRITICAL that enrollment be maintained, because federal and state money for EVERY public college is BASED on enrollment.

          You are either a total idiot or a disingenuous trol

  • sfwriter

    City College is open and classes are accredited through at least June 2014. Anyone with a true interest in the college and in the future of San Francisco should stop reading the misleading coverage in the Chronicle and read the 280-page CFT complaint to the federal Department of Education over improprieties in the accrediting body’s review of the school, which the DOE is currently investigating with all seriousness. The biggest scam, student1, is to ignore the enormous value CCSF has had to the city of San Francisco. NO ONE, not even the accrediting body, disputes the very high quality of teaching and learning that has earned the school national recognition for decades. Wake up and educate yourself!

  • Guest

    “Ting said students should know that credits until July 31, 2014, and potentially beyond will still be deemed accredited and transferable to four-year universities.”

    Yes. Yes. The credits are transferable. This is comforting news to existing students trying to finish up the programs. But who would want to deal with the uncertainty and the bad reputation of a closed school. I do not blame the new students for going elsewhere.

  • Happeh

    The journalism instructor wrote a plea for journalism students? No wonder City College is going down the tubes.

    Doesn’t that instructor realize that journalism is a dead career? Every newspaper in the country has closed up or reduced itself to a skeleton staff. Most people in the “journalism” business are somebody’s friend, somebody’s sexual partner, or somebody who is likeable.

    Journalism in the USA disappeared when Peter Jennings died.

    Since that time the US “news” has been nothing but propaganda, and misdirection stories like “who is pregnant?”, “who has a fat butt?”, and “who said something they shouldn’t have?”.

  • tkindred

    I don’t know exactly what is going on with CCSF’s accreditation but I have been taking classes there for several years and it is a very good school with great instructors. I have a BS degree in engineering from a large state school and I was impressed when I began taking classes there. Community colleges are the best bargain in college education. I just enrolled in 3 classes at CCSF for the Fall 13 semester. I support CCSF 100%. San Francisco and the Bay Area can not afford to lose CCSF. Some things you just don’t let happen.

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