I recently received an e-mail saying that I now have 60 or so credits from a college that is losing accreditation:

The school [City College of San Francisco], the largest college in California, was notified last week by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges that it will lose accreditation on July 31, 2014, leaving students without federal financial aid and potentially voiding their ability to transfer credits to other schools.


The e-mail came from CCSF itself and they asked me to both tweet and write to a journalist about how important CCSF has been for me as a successful transfer student. Luckily, I transferred just under a year ago, which provides me with insight into how the school was operating while the pressure was on as well as what it has meant to me.

To start, it has, most definitely, changed my life in a significant way that I truly appreciate. I decided to go to college at 29 because I was having difficulty finding any work at all, let alone rewarding work, and found myself in a state where I could get an education for free. That second part is important. Because I was an independent student and a citizen of California with very little income, I qualified for the Board of Governor’s Waiver which paid for my tuition in full. I may have never gone if it hadn’t been for this benefit.

The education I received there was also, for the most part, just as good as what I receive at Tulane University now. In fact, my Spanish classes there were all far superior to the various languages classes I’ve taken at Tulane. The student population was also extremely diverse and interesting. I was never the oldest person in my classes. The school really did fill a lot of roles for a lot of people.

I’m not writing to that journalist, though. I don’t think he’d want me to anyway because I couldn’t say that I’m against the school losing accreditation. I remember hearing about this often for the last couple semesters I was there. The infrastructure was in shambles. I shivered through plenty of « summer » night classes in the Creative Arts building and I’m pretty sure they tried to cut back on costs by not providing paper towels in the bathrooms (which is both a minor issue for a student and a minor effort on the school’s part). The « offices » for faculty were often sectioned off makeshift cubicles in large rooms with giant stacks of paperwork functioning as supports. There were at most two financial aid clerks working during fairly limited hours that left slow-moving lines of up to 100 students at a time waiting to have a couple questions answered or a form signed. No one in the school could be reached by phone and you would be very lucky to receive a response to an e-mail that wasn’t sent to a professor. And what if you tried to get some of your bureaucratic formalities out of the way early before the rush of students made it a nightmare in the early semester? They’d tell you it’s too early and you’d have to come back. My guess is this was probably because they didn’t have the faculty to do anything with it at that time anyway.

Professors, though most of the ones I had (carefully) selected were rather good, often brought the politics of the school to the classroom. I was regularly asked by teachers to make sure that I voted for more bonds to be issued and whatnot, anything that would superficially provide the (possibly insolvent) school with more funds. In fact, my favorite teacher once complained–although she also had a sense of concern in her delivery–that she and others were forced to forgo raises so that other teachers with less time in wouldn’t be laid off. And I understood their concerns, but I didn’t automatically assume that the problem was simply not enough money being pumped in, especially given statements like that last one. I mean, they had a very poor faculty-to-student ratio but at the same time almost the entirety of their operating costs went to faculty salaries. To be fair, the ratio is a problem for most CA school and I couldn’t verify what a normal percentage of costs for faculty would be, but it was enough that it didn’t feel appropriate to bring the politics into the classroom so regularly.

That’s not to say the students weren’t equally ridiculous about the issue. CCSF has possibly the lowest tuition rates in the country for a community college [my guess] and they were very slowly increasing due to the crisis. Simultaneously, students would come into my classes–often those involved in the Occupy movement–speaking about how the original plan for CCSF was for it to be literally free for everyone. They were up in arms about the tuition hikes and the shorter semesters and the cuts in class availability (because CCSF was at least doing a little to try to lower their bottom line).

It was an impossible scenario where you have both a mismanaged school and an unrealistic student body attempting to maintain some pipe-dream where education is free and no one anywhere at any time needs to pay a dime as long as the city just keeps issuing loads of bonds. It caused both sides to move in such pathetically small increments that it would’ve taken a lifetime for the issues that the accrediting agency warned them about years earlier to get fixed. Which is another reason I feel very leery about giving CCSF a full blown vote of support in their protest: they knew what the problems were literally year ago and, when the accrediting agency finally came back to check on the school’s progress, they communicated twice as many issues as the last time. The college managed to receive warnings, and then progress in an even more negative direction as a result, probably due to the previously mentioned pipe-dream issue. How can I really say that I want the accrediting agency to change their mind about the school while knowing all this?

What I’d like to reiterate, though, is that I did receive a very good education there. CCSF was responsible for giving many people in the area a cheap place to go, even when they couldn’t get the Board of Governor’s Waiver. It really does sadden me to see that they’re closing down, despite the tone of this post. The direction of my life has changed drastically and led to all sorts of new experiences simply because I had that opportunity to go there. In a way, I also feel guilty, as if I received the fruits of a system that I simultaneously criticize. Maybe I share a bit of that pipe-dream, too. I think that mentality, while also being a source of frustration, is also what makes California such a wonderful place and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t influence me a great deal in just the few years I lived there.

Whatever happens, I do hope something bigger and better comes out of the rubble.