Uncertainty over college irks students in California

Updated: 2013-03-27 10:46

By Chen Jia in San Francisco (China Daily)

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Some Chinese students at City College of San Francisco have added their voices to campus-wide concerns over accreditation problems at one of the United States' largest two-year schools.

The publicly funded college faces possible loss of accreditation - a dire outcome for any academic institution - in June due to fiscal mismanagement since California officials cut funding to higher education, according to the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

In response to findings by the commission of 14 major "failures" including weak leadership and overspending, college administrators earlier this month demanded more evidence and defended their management. They hope the accrediting body will at least grant the college probationary status, giving them time to resolve remaining problems.

"Over the last nine months, the college has made remarkable progress with the input of faculty, classified staff, students and administrators participating in the dialogue to improve the effectiveness of this institution," Thelma Scott-Skillman, the school's interim chancellor said in a March 15 statement.

Skillman's confidence hasn't satisfied many in the college community, including Chinese students relying on the school to help them develop careers, learn through auditing classes or improve in English.

As of the 2011-12 academic year, City College had 85,000 people enrolled in its programs, including 13,175 credit-seeking students and 14,001 noncredit students from Asia. There is no official number for Chinese students, but they are a large part of the Asian student body.

Veronica Lin plans to study at City College and then transfer to a four-year school within the University of California system. That was the advice she received from a Beijing-based agent who helps Chinese arrange study-abroad programs.

"I was told that admission would be easy and the tuition was low," Lin recalled the agent saying. "Some short-term professional training programs even promised me a job if I failed to transfer. In the short term, a job is a much more practical reward than a PhD."

Neither the agent nor others can offer solid assurances to Lin and her classmates over the academic fate of their school given the uncertainty of the accreditation review.

"I heard we will get help in transferring to other community colleges if City College has to shut down [this] fall," said one Chinese student who lives in San Francisco.

A draft of a "closure report" from the college promises that student transcripts will be kept in a safe place and that degrees and certificates will be awarded to students who have completed 75 percent of their coursework.

"But I still have to quit the course if I have to transfer to other community college in the East Bay. I come to City College after work; long-distance driving is unrealistic," said the San Francisco student, who gave only his surname, Zhang.

"City College is hope for new immigrants without good English and technical skills," he said. "Please save City College."

Like many higher-education advocates in the US, Zhang said he believes there are alternatives to the traditional study-abroad model of a four-year college or university that yields a bachelor's degree and a potential means to a master's or a PhD.

On Tuesday, the Public Policy Institute of California issued a report saying that $1.5 billion in state budget cuts contributed to an enrollment decline in California community colleges to 2.4 million students in 2012 from 2.9 million in 2007.

Some of the funding was restored through new taxes approved in November by California voters.

In 2008, City College saw its state funding cut by 13 percent, or $26 million, in response to the financial and housing crisis that hit California especially hard, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.