01/09/2013 05:55 pm ET

City College Of San Francisco Asks For Extension To Prevent Shutdown (PHOTOS)

Administrators at City College of San Francisco, the largest college in the state of California, believe the troubled institution will be unable to successfully make all of the changes required in order to keep its accreditation.

Accreditors told the school last summer that it needed to implement a series of major changes by March 15 or it would be stripped of its accreditation. An accreditation loss would render CCSF ineligible for state funding, which would almost inevitably result in its closure.

But the community college almost certainly won't be able to implement the required changes by the imposed deadline. In a hearing this week, Bob Agrella, a special trustee appointed by CCSF last year to lead its reform efforts, said the school will ask the accreditors to either extend the deadline or be placed on probation.

City College was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy until San Francisco voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to increase funding for the beleaguered institution last November. Authorities told the school it must take 14 specific steps in order to get its fiscal house in order.

The commission accused the school of flagrant mismanagement, which included spending 92 percent of its money on salaries and benefits. "There's everything wrong with 92 percent going to salary and benefits," former Accrediting Commission Executive Director David Wolf told the Bay Citizen. "You cannot run a coherent college spending your money that way."

"We're making significant progress. I don't want to minimize that," Agrella told the Board of Governors, noting the school was having some difficultly enacting all of the reforms by the specific mid-March deadline.

The changes are primariy targeted at reducing expenditures and having the school run on a more cost-efficient basis. Moves made along these lines, such as layoffs, an 8.8 percent across-the-board pay cut for all faculty members, closing a small childcare center, requiring some department chairs to step away from their administrative work and efforts to close some of the school's numerous campuses, have been met with hostility from labor unions.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian reports:

Alisa Messer, president of the faculty union at City College, thinks cutting teachers, and therefore classes, flies in the face of what the voters bargained for with Prop. A. "There's no discussion here about accountability to San Francisco voters,” Messer told us. And with the loss of competitive wages, the faculty has already started to come apart at the seams.

"We have unfortunately heard from quite a few faculty that they will be looking for jobs out of state," Messer said. "Many said they'll have to change their living situation or move out of San Francisco."

Unions aren't the only organization upset about some of the changes coming to City College. This Friday, a group comprised of both students and staff members plan to a protest during a welcome address to be given by Interim Chancellor Thelma Scott-Skillman.

Inside Higher Education reports:

Observers predict that if the college can demonstrate solid progress on the report’s 14 recommended fixes--which cover governance, mission and financial controls--the commission will give it the benefit of the doubt and keep the doors open. But playing chicken with an accreditor is generally a bad idea, so City College will have to move quickly and decisively.

Even so, the commission has been known to yank accreditation from underperforming schools in similar situations. The body closed down Compton Community College in Southern California in 2005 due to fiscal mismanagement, for example. Eventually that school was absorbed by El Camino Community College.

City College isn't the only California school in such a situation. Humbolt County's College of the Redwoods and Cuesta Community College in San Luis Obispo are also in midst of their own accreditation crises.

Some of the changes have gone right to the core of the City College's mission of "lifelong learning." The San Francisco Chronicle explains:

Across California, other community colleges had already begun to narrow their missions, focusing almost exclusively on preparing students for jobs, careers or transferring to a four-year university. A new state law was passed this fall that will deny fee waivers to students who linger too long at school or can't get focused.

Now City College trustees have revised their mission statement, dropping the emphasis on enrichment classes, such as music appreciation, memoir writing and other free classes enjoyed by many older adults.

This reorientation of the school's fundamental philosophy has already started to raise hackles among the student body. "We are here because our resources are not enough, not because our mission is too big," CCSF art student Carmen Melendez told the San Francisco Examiner.

City College serves some 90,000 students across a dozen campuses throughout San Francisco.

Check out this slideshow showing some of the changes at City College:

CCSF's Big Changes