City College of San Francisco, one of the largest community colleges in the nation, won its bid on Friday to stay accredited, ending a years-long fight to stay open.
The school announced that the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges has reaffirmed its accreditation for seven years.
"My reaction is just real happiness for City College and our students," said Rafael Mandelman, president of the CCSF Board of Trustees. "This is a tremendously great development. It means that we can focus on rebuilding. It means that we can focus our efforts on serving San Francisco better and offering classes that bring it more students. The accreditation crisis has been a tremendous strain on the college."
The commission had placed CCSF on its strongest "show cause" sanction in 2012, requiring the college to prove why it should remain open. The ACCJC, which formally revoked City College's accreditation in 2013, had focused much of its scrutiny on the school’s alleged administrative shortcomings and its financial condition.
"This crisis did not need to happen," Mandelman said. "In my view, City College in 2012 was an institution in need of reform, and it would have been completely appropriate for an accreditor to point out the areas in which City College was weak and needed to work. What was not acceptable was to threaten termination, and then a year later move forward with trying to terminate the college. And it didn’t make the process of fixing what was wrong with City College easier. I think the path that the ACCJC took in 2012 and 2013 actually made it harder to bring City College to a better place."
Mandelman said enrollment at CCSF has fallen dramatically -- from nearly 100,000 before the accreditation crisis began to about 65,000 now. He said the college faces a loss of approximately $35 million in state funding due to the decline in enrollment.
In August 2013, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit against the ACCJC on the grounds that it improperly sanctioned the school. The lawsuit bought the college time, and it further postponed closure through a deal with the accrediting commission in 2015.
“City College is part of the fabric of San Francisco. It provides hope, community and opportunity to anyone who needs it," Herrera wrote in a press release. "I’m happy we were able to do our part to help keep the school open, and I’m thrilled this vital institution will now be able to serve its students and our city for generations to come."
City College faculty union President Tim Killikelly said in a press release that the "accreditation crisis at CCSF should never have occurred" and "the quality of its education was never in doubt.”
"All of us at the college are so excited and relieved that the accreditation crisis is over," Killikelly said.
Recently elected City College Trustee Shanell Williams was a student at the school when the crisis landed in 2012, and she spent the past four years organizing and advocating to keep it open. She said regaining the school's fully accredited status is "a dream come true," while acknowledging the difficult work ahead to rebuild enrollment.
A proposal for San Francisco to fund free tuition, currently under consideration in the city's budget, would go a long way toward that recovery, she said.
"Moving forward locally, we’ll be able to regain thousands of students that we’ve lost over the years," Williams said. "We have to make sure that free CCSF becomes a reality."
Ted Goldberg of KQED News contributed to this report.