BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



          SENATE COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS
                             Senator Ricardo Lara, Chair
                            2015 - 2016  Regular  Session

          AB 1397 (Ting) - Community colleges: California Community  
          Colleges Fair Accreditation Act of 2015.
          
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          |Version: July 8, 2015           |Policy Vote: ED. 6 - 3          |
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          |Urgency: No                     |Mandate: Yes                    |
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          |Hearing Date: August 17, 2015   |Consultant: Jillian Kissee      |
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          This bill may meet the criteria for referral to the Suspense  
          File.


          Bill  
          Summary:  This bill establishes the California Community Colleges (CCC)  
          Fair Accreditation Act of 2015 and requires the accrediting  
          agency for CCCs to meet various specified operational standards.


          Fiscal  
          Impact:  No direct and certain cost to the state.
           Potential costs to the extent fees are increased by the  
            Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges  
            (ACCJC) to modify systems to conform to this bill.  Though  
            community colleges pay these fees, they are not reimbursable  
            pursuant to state mandate law.  Instead, increases in fees  
            could put pressure on colleges' budgets which are largely  
            funded by Proposition 98 General Fund.

           CCC student eligibility for state and federal financial aid  
            could potentially be compromised to the extent the United  







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            States Department of Education (USDE) does not recognize the  
            ACCJC due to the bill's provisions that may conflict with  
            federal accrediting agency recognition requirements.  This  
            could create a significant General Fund cost pressure to  
            backfill any loss in funding.  See staff comments.


          Background:  State regulations require each community college within a  
          district to be an accredited institution.  Accreditation is a  
          voluntary, non-governmental peer review process used to  
          determine academic quality.  Accrediting agencies are private  
          organizations that establish operating standards for educational  
          or professional institutions and programs.  They determine the  
          extent to which the standards are met and publicly announce  
          their findings.  Federal law requires institutions to be  
          accredited in order to participate in federal programs that  
          provide financial assistance to students.
          The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and  
          Integrity advises the USDE on matters related to postsecondary  
          accreditation and the eligibility and certification process for  
          higher education institutions to participate in federal student  
          aid programs.  It assesses whether accrediting agencies'  
          standards are sufficiently rigorous to ensure the entity is a  
          reliable authority regarding the quality of the education  
          provided by the institutions or programs it accredits.   
          Accrediting entities must meet all the criteria for recognition.


          The ACCJC is the regional accrediting agency for community  
          colleges in the western region.  Its 19 commissioners, one of  
          which is a representative of the CCC Chancellor's Office, are  
          elected by a vote of the presidents of the member colleges,  
          which have been accredited by the ACCJC.


          After an initial accreditation, colleges must have their  
          accreditation reaffirmed every six years.  Generally, this  
          involves a self-study, a site visit by a team of peers, a  
          recommendation by the visiting team, an action by the  
          accrediting agency, and follow-up progress reports.  


          Institutions pay annual membership dues and fees to the  
          accrediting agency to support expenses resulting from  








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          comprehensive evaluation visits and any special and follow-up  
          visits.  The accrediting agency charges fees for a variety of  
          other services such as those related to eligibility review,  
          candidacy, and initial accreditation.


          The CCC Chancellor's Office has an Accreditation Task Force to  
          advise and provide recommendations regarding the accreditation  
          process.  These recommendations are expected to be available  
          later this year.




          Proposed Law:  
            This bill establishes the CCC Fair Accreditation Act of 2015  
          and requires ACCJC to meet specified operational standards.   
          This bill makes its provisions applicable only to accrediting  
          procedures for institutions in California.  
          This bill further prescribes the accreditation process by  
          requiring:


                 The establishment and enforcement of procedures to  
               ensure no conflicts of interest, as specified, exist with  
               individuals serving on visiting accreditation teams.


                 The agency to conduct meetings to ensure the public has  
               an opportunity to attend open sessions; there is sufficient  
               time for public comment; and that no action of the agency  
               related to an institution's accreditation is to be taken  
               prior to hearing public comment.


                 Accreditation-related decisions to be based on published  
               standards, consistent with state and federal law.


                 That no revision is to be made by the agency to a report  
               from a visiting accreditation team report unless it is  
               shared with the team and with the institution under review  
               and is afforded an opportunity to comment on the revision.









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                 An institution under review six weeks to review visiting  
               accreditation team reports and recommendation for action  
               before a decision relating to the institution's  
               accreditation is to be made.


                 Time for an institution to correct any deficiencies that  
               have prevented the institution from receiving full  
               accreditation and the ability to apply for an extension.


                 An appeals process for certain sanctions issued by the  
               agency.




          Related  
          Legislation:  AB 1385 (Ting, 2015) requires notification to the  
          CCC Board of Governors before an accrediting agency increases  
          membership fees, special assessments, or other payments charged  
          to a community college.  

          AB 404 (Chiu, 2015) requires, among other things, the ACCJC to  
          report to the CCC Board of Governors the date by which the  
          agency's application for continued recognition is due.  AB 404  
          is pending in this Committee.


          Staff  
          Comments:  As noted above, this bill does not result in direct  
          costs to the state at this time.  However, potential costs to  
          the state could arise depending on the implications of a recent  
          letter issued to the ACCJC from the USDE expressing "serious  
          concerns" regarding the ability of an accrediting agency to  
          enforce its standards effectively, as required by the USDE's  
          recognition criteria.  It indicates that the timeline  
          established in the bill prior to a decision is able to be made  
          would appear to interfere with an accrediting agency's ability  
          to act swiftly in taking enforcement action.  Federal  
          regulations require that if the accrediting agency's review of  
          an institution is not in compliance their standards, the agency  
          must immediately initiate adverse action against the institution  








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          or program.  This bill requires that the accrediting agency  
          operate only by policies that are in compliance with the federal  
          criteria for recognition of an accrediting agency.  The USDE  
          indicates that only it can interpret and apply its recognition  
          criteria.
          The implication of USDE's concerns is unknown at this time.   
          Conflict with USDE's recognition criteria could put recognition  
          of the ACCJC as an accrediting agency in jeopardy.  This would  
          have serious implications as it could potentially compromise CCC  
          student eligibility for state and federal financial aid.  Other  
          possible implications could be costs attributed to disputes or  
          litigation to determine the ability of the state to enforce  
          statutorily-imposed requirements since accrediting agencies are  
          private membership-based, non-profit organizations recognized by  
          the USDE.




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