San Francisco Chronicle – June 1, 2012 – by Nanette Asimov
City College of San Francisco may be forced to close or combine some campuses – it has 12 of them – to help stave off a financial crisis and retain full accreditation, The Chronicle has learned.
More immediately, college trustees voted 4-1 Thursday evening to seek an independent, top-to-bottom financial evaluation even as they prepare to restore nearly 100 summer school classes that were cut to save money. That move shut out thousands of students and put about $1 million in future state funds at risk. It all comes as the college faces a $14 million budget shortfall that interim Chancellor Pamila Fisher said could lead to layoffs.
“Everything is on the table,” said Fisher, who took over May 1 when Chancellor Don Griffin retired early for medical reasons. As for campus closures, “it’s a very legitimate question for us to be considering.”
City College is one of the nation’s largest community colleges, with 90,000 full- and part-time students and a $200 million operating budget. An accreditation report due late this month is expected to identify several worrisome conditions – including dangerously low financial reserves and, apparently, more campuses than the college can afford.
“I think we’re going to have to close some,” said John Rizzo, president of the Board of Trustees. “They (the accreditation team) think we have too many campuses.”
That could jeopardize City College’s “financial management and stability,” one of the standards required for accreditation. Although voluntary, accreditation is necessary for licensing agencies and employers to consider students’ credentials legitimate, and it allows schools to offer financial aid. Federal law gives colleges two years to repair problems or lose accreditation.
City College not only maintains a dozen campuses across the city and at San Francisco International Airport, it also has classrooms tucked into at least 20 other locations, including the Stonestown YMCA, the Plumbing Apprentice Union, the Laurel Hill Nursery School, and the Jewish Home for the Aged.
Not even college officials can say offhand how many there are.
But any closures would likely come from among the more expensive primary campuses, Rizzo said.
“It sort of makes sense,” he said. “Our new Chinatown campus is just eight-tenths of a mile away from the downtown campus” at Fourth and Mission streets.
The downtown campus offers adult education classes and a culinary program, including the Educated Palate, a student-run restaurant.
Early discussions suggest that those programs could be shifted to the Chinatown campus at 808 Kearny St., Rizzo said. Others being eyed for closure are the Civic Center campus at 750 Eddy St., the Castro campus at 450 Church St., and the airport campus, Rizzo said, emphasizing that the firefighter training program housed at the airport is not in jeopardy.
A full financial analysis is needed before any decision is made to close a campus, Fisher said.
“When you close one of them, you lose a certain amount of support from the state – even if you move it,” she said. “You will see us looking at all of that as the summer proceeds.”
Students visiting the downtown campus before summer session begins July 2 said they oppose closing it. “That’s ridiculous!” said a woman who declined to give her name but said she is in her 50s and takes computer classes there. “I would not go up to Chinatown. That’s bad.”
Alicia Salazar, 34, who studies Photoshop, agreed. “I would be against that,” she said, because Chinatown is hard to get to from her apartment near the Civic Center. A check of transportation options showed the fastest way there involves one train, one bus, and an 11-minute walk.
Barbara Beno, president of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, declined to discuss the pending report about City College but said that comprehensive reviews of member schools are conducted every six years. Members include the state’s 112 community colleges and some private schools.
As of January, 28 colleges had failed to satisfy all of the accreditation criteria and are “on sanction,” meaning they are on probation, got a warning or are at risk of losing accreditation altogether.
In addition to having too many campuses, City College could be placed on that watch list because its financial reserves have dipped dangerously low, to $3 million, said Trustee Rizzo. The recommended cushion is $10 million.
Unrelated to accreditation is the plan to restore summer classes to bring back more students – and with them, future state funding.
Under Chancellor Griffin, college officials planned to reduce this summer’s classes by 60 percent – more than 100 classes – as a straightforward way to save cash.
“But we shaved too many classes,” Rizzo said. So many students were turned away that college officials feared they would lose about $1 million in state funds for dipping below a certain baseline. By restoring classes, City College hopes to bring back more than 3,000 students.
At the same time, the school’s finances are so precarious that the trustees will ask the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team for help on better ways to steer the ship. The trustees also voted unanimously to place a $79 per parcel tax on the November ballot that would raise nearly $16 million a year for eight years.