Accrediting Commission Says District has “Corrected Deficiencies”

By David Rowe, Associate Editor

February 6, 2023

After three years of uncertainty regarding their accreditation status, the presidents of the four colleges (Laney, Merritt, Berkeley City College, and College of Alameda) in the Peralta Community College District (PCCD) each received nearly identical letters on Jan. 26 advising them that their schools are once again fully accredited. 

The letters were sent from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), the nonprofit body responsible for accrediting community colleges in the western United States. 

ACCJC placed the Peralta colleges on probation in January 2020 following the publication of a scathing report by the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) in 2019. That report found, among other things, that the district had “suffered from years of ineffective and inconsistent guidance, nonadherence to policies and procedures, and difficulties in receiving consistent information and communication.” 

The consequences of losing accreditation, as reported in the Los Angeles Times, can include not being able to offer financial aid, damage to a school’s reputation, and even closure of the school. 

The ACCJC revoked the accreditation for Compton College in 2005, and San Francisco City College came close to losing its accreditation in 2012, according to the LA Times article, although it was ultimately reaffirmed in 2017.

Faced with this existential threat, the Peralta administration developed a plan to address the areas of concern highlighted by ACCJC which included: not having appropriate internal control mechanisms, regular evaluation of financial management practices, timely responses to external audit findings, effective oversight of financial aid programs, assurance of academic quality and financial stability, and a governing board that “reflects the public interest.”

The district’s efforts were rewarded in January 2022 when the ACCJC modified the accreditation status of the Peralta colleges from “probation” to the less severe “warning.” This caused two bond rating agencies to upgrade the PCCD bonds in October, and to revise their financial outlook for the district from negative to stable. Fitch Ratings, one of the bond rating agencies, noted that PCCD “has addressed 68 out of 78” of the recommendations from the FCMAT report. 

The new letters, which were sent from Mac Powell, President of the ACCJC, and Lori Gaskin, Chair of the commission, stated that the colleges and district had “addressed the compliance requirements, corrected deficiencies” and met the necessary standards.

The ACCJC letters stated that “the commission acted to reaffirm accreditation for the remainder of the cycle.”

According to Mark Johnson, PCCD’s Executive Director of Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations, the “cycle” referred to in the letters extends to June 2028. ACCJC will conduct a review of Peralta in Fall 2027, Johnson said in an email to The Citizen, and visit the colleges in Spring 2028 – any action affecting the accreditation of the Peralta colleges would not occur until June 2028.

Interim Chancellor Jannett Jackson, who assumed her current role at PCCD in March 2021, described the accreditation situation she inherited as “looking into the abyss.” 

Upon learning of the ACCJC’s decision, Jackson issued a statement reflecting on the work involved in addressing the commission’s concerns and considering the path moving forward.

“We’re looking at a future of exceeding standards of excellence, which our students and community deserve,” Jackson commented.

According to Johnson, one person who was “very helpful” in the process of working with ACCJC was Stephanie Droker, who currently serves as Interim Deputy Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer at the district.

Before joining PCCD in January 2022, Droker was President and CEO of ACCJC. She was recruited by Jackson to fill a previously vacant position at the district. 

While PCCD sees restoration of accreditation under Jackson’s administration as a positive step in addressing the “leadership void” called out in the FCMAT report, her contract as Interim Chancellor only extends through December of this year. The Board of Trustees has already started the search process for a permanent chancellor.