Faced With Accreditation Threats, Financial Aid Administrators at CCSF Speak Out

By Katy Hopkins, Communications Staff 

It’s possible City College of San Francisco (CCSF) will have no federal financial aid to award to students beginning July 31, 2014. But that hasn’t stopped its financial aid administrators from operating as usual for the upcoming school year.

“The college is open, fully accredited and many classes are still available for fall 2013,” the institution announced via a recent press release.  “A variety of financial aid opportunities are also available for students who want to enroll this fall but may need a little extra assistance paying for fees, books, supplies and even help with the rent.”

The California institution was recently charged by the Accrediting Commission of Junior and Community Colleges to meet standards or risk losing accreditation next July. A loss of accreditation would strip its access to federal financial aid, a probable death knell for the institution that enrolls about 80,000 students across its locations. 

Despite the threat, administrators are operating with the hope that the institution can bring itself up to par and retain its status next year and beyond. CCSF officials have created a variety of action plans to improve student learning outcomes, access to student services, and more. And in a surprising move that further complicates the matter, the Department of Education sent a letter on August 13 to the accrediting commission, questioning the accreditor’s methods and requiring that “immediate steps” be taken by the commission to avoid suspension—making it even less clear whether CCSF will ultimately be stripped of its accreditation.

If CCSF does lose accreditation, between 25,000 and 30,000 students would be affected by the lost access to federal financial aid, financial aid office manager Sophia Toney estimates. Within her office, administrators have gone on the offensive to combat doubts for current and prospective students. 

“There’s a lot of confusion about what’s going to happen,” says Jorge Bell, dean of financial aid. “We have been very active on the radio and in the media to reassure students that financial aid is still here and they can apply.” 

Administrators are also staying busy answering routine financial aid questions, such as application requirements and disbursement timelines, and asking for continued support from current students, Toney says. 

Though City College of San Francisco may be dealing with the most dire accreditation threat, it’s an issue at other institutions as well. Nineteen other colleges in California alone have received warnings, probationary statuses, or “show cause” requirements, according to the Los Angeles Times

Financial aid professionals at institutions facing accreditation threats should work closely with senior administration officials as they attempt to stave off a loss, Bell said. Leaders should also be transparent with their staffers, he advised, with “no secret agendas.” 

“It’s hard sometimes; when you hear all the negative press, people get depressed and people get tired. It can be hard to keep people motivated,” Bell said. “The best thing is open communication.”

Has your institution struggled with accreditation requirements? Please share your thoughts and advice for other financial aid professionals in the comments section below.


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