Prop. A Alone Won’t Save City College

By Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
November 15, 2012

City College of San Francisco's Mission Campus. Image via Flickr courtesy Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

City College of San Francisco (CCSF) Interim chancellor Pamila Fisher offered a blunt assessment of the state of the college at a SPUR breakfast on October 17, just two days after the school released an action plan to address deficiencies identified by the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. “Our commitment to San Francisco values has sometimes gotten in the way of making good decisions,” she told the audience.

The words were striking given CCSF’s recent trajectory.

With nine campuses, 100 instructional sites and just shy of 90,000 students, City College of San Francisco is the largest two-year community college in California. It is also a valued workforce development partner for the city and one of the largest providers of English as a second language (ESL) instruction in San Francisco.

The days since submission of the action plan have revealed just how painful changes are going to be at CCSF. The college’s board of trustees has appointed a special trustee to manage accreditation-related issues. The board is also considering a range of different options to restore the institution’s financial viability, including closure of college-run childcare facilities, which provide child development training opportunities. Forcing students to pay all enrollment fees (a practice found to be only sporadically enforced) could yield as much as $400,000 per year. In combination with other related proposals, the college has taken steps to save as much as $2.5 million per year. Unfortunately, this will only begin to address the school’s financial woes.

The accreditation threat is only the latest in a series of challenges faced by CCSF. The college has lost significant state funding in recent years: Recessionary pressures and California’s structural budget deficit have combined to reduce state funding by $57 million since 2007, about 17 percent of the school’s state funding allocation. CCSF is not alone; community colleges throughout California have experienced significant funding reductions in recent years. But City College may be alone in failing to adapt to those pressures.

Although the college is experiencing administrative challenges, voters acknowledged the importance of funding on Election Day. The passage of both California Proposition 30, Governor Jerry Brown’s temporary increase of both sales tax and income taxes for those earning above $250,000, and San Francisco Proposition A, a local parcel tax, mean that City College can not only forgo additional budget cuts in the current year, but will have an additional $14 million per year in each of the next eight years. Without the passage of both measures the college might have gone bankrupt.

What remains for now is a modicum of financial stability and yet another leadership transition for City College. Fisher’s six-month contract expired November 1. In her place will be another interim chancellor — Thelma Scott-Skinner, the retired president of Folsom Lake College — and the special trustee appointed by the board, Bob Agrella, retired head of the Sonoma County Junior College District. The action plan submitted in October explains how the commission’s recommendations will be addressed. The next impending deadline is March 15, when the college must submit a report explaining how and why CCSF should remain accredited.