Washington Monthly just published its annual rankings of the best and worst colleges and universities in America. (If you are curious, UC San Diego was named number one, UC Berkeley was five, and Stanford was six.) But in addition to the metrics, it also ran a long and well-argued story about the sorry state of the community college system in California. Exhibit number one, of course, is our own City College of San Francisco. You really ought to go read the whole thing, but just in case, we've pulled out the most troubling details.
The Bay Has Many Low-Ranked Community Colleges: Of the 1,011 community colleges across the country in magazine's ranking, CCSF was 842. Skyline College was 772, College of Marin was 839, College of San Mateo was 845, Laney was 882, the College of Alameda was 971, Cañada College was 979, and Berkeley City College was 982. Those numbers are based on "federal data sets tracking the percentage of students who graduate or transfer within three years and the total degrees awarded per 100 students."
CCSF Is Bad By Multiple Measures: According to the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, "San Francisco City College, with below-average CCSSE scores in all five categories, clocked in at forty-second worst nationwide."
CCSF Isn't Alone In Accreditation Woes: "Between 2003 and 2012, 55 percent (62 of 112) of California’s community colleges were sanctioned by the regional accrediting agency for various shades of mismanagement or fiscal irresponsibility, and forty of those sixty-two were sanctioned more than once—sometimes four, five, six, or seven times in a decade."
Almost All Community Colleges Have Terrible Graduation Rates: "California’s community colleges granted only 10.6 certificates or degrees per 100 students enrolled over a three-year period. That’s almost 40 percent worse than the national average [...] Nationwide, 14.2 percent of community college students earn a certificate or degree, or transfer, within three years."
There's No Money: "The recession alone brought an $809 million hit to the community college system—a blow that, between 2007 and 2010, added up to a cut of almost 16 percent in total funding, or $1,400 per full-time student."
CCSF Leadership Was Dysfunctional: This anecdote is worth quoting at length: "A couple of hours into the meeting [CCSF president John] Rizzo, raised a motion to change the way City College’s English and math departments did their placement tests. The motion was, at heart, totally uncontroversial. The tweak in policy had been proposed by faculty, backed by the academic senate, and applauded by both the board and assembled student groups for making it quicker and easier for students to move through remedial classes and on to courses that would advance them to a credential or degree. The only question up for discussion that Thursday was when the policy would be implemented. [...] The entire board meeting cleaved into two howling camps. At one point, members of the audience began, quite literally, screaming at each other—“Shame on you!” “No, shame on you!”—while Rizzo, banging his gavel, blinked wearily into the crowd [...] One particularly outspoken board member, Steve Ngo, was having none of it. He sighed with frustration and offered to refer the question to legal counsel—whose decision was it anyway, legally speaking?—but then challenged the faculty directly. What if the board, as the only publicly elected body, simply insisted that the policy tweak be implemented in the fall semester? he asked. The head of the English department, still standing at the podium, looked as if she’d been punched. 'And what will happen to us if we don’t get it done?' she said in response, giving the board a little head waggle. 'What if there are things beyond our control that happen—do we get spanked?'"
San Francisco still confuses people from the East Coast: "The city’s famously liberal rent control and loitering policies have created, by accident, picture-perfect vignettes of these rapidly changing times. During my visit, I watched a homeless man help a twentysomething kid parallel-park a Tesla."