The corporate takeover of education
City College of San Francisco in the bull’s-eye
Luma Nichol
volume:  
volume 34
issue 2
April 2013
imagestuff
Feb. 28. Students join a rally to support CCSF sponsored by the faculty union, AFT Local 2121. Photo credit: Nancy Reiko Kato / FS

The assault on City College of San Francisco (CCSF) seemed to come out of the blue. Widely known for its innovative instruction, this community college had never received a sanction. Last July it was graded “F” by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) and given until March 15 to correct supposed defects or face closure. With Board of Trustees approval, the Interim Chancellor took a wrecking ball to CCSF — in the name of “austerity.”

It turns out that destroying CCSF didn’t come out of the blue after all. It is a stunning example of a nationwide strategy to overthrow public education, conceived in the highest halls of private and public power.

The loss of CCSF would do great harm to the people of color, immigrants, and working-class students for whom it is a lifeline.

From boardrooms to classrooms. The U.S. community college system enrolls 6 million in public schools that have open admissions and affordable tuitions. In the past five years, mega-foundations of wealthy corporations have spent billions to privatize this system. Among the biggest spenders are Microsoft’s Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Walmart’s Walton Family Foundation, and Lumina Foundation, formed from the student loan profits of Sallie Mae.

They want graduates with “labor market value” so that the U.S. can “compete successfully in the global economy.”

They want schools to eliminate all but core classes, shorten the time to earn degrees, and boost technology for assessing performance. Part-time and non-degree students are becoming an endangered species. At CCSF class offerings are being limited, women’s studies, ethnic studies, childcare centers, and art studios are on the chopping block.

Shrinking class offerings feed a rising industry of schools for profit, distance learning, and Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCS), which are free web courses financed by entrepreneurs who decide the curriculum.

The profiteers intend to run schools like factories, super-sizing administration, and cutting workers’ benefits, pay and pension contributions. This can only be achieved by busting unions. At CCSF, the Special Trustee in charge of enforcing austerity acknowledged that union opposition is a significant barrier to management’s reform plan.

Profits from the poor. The foundations virtuously claim they care about low-income and minority students realizing “their full potential.” They lie. Unequal access to education because of mounting racism and poverty is a major social disease in this country. Foundations are using sham concern for students of color to mask their grab for profits. Like the predatory banksters who target lower income home-buyers, education foundations take aim at the same strata, and turn a tidy profit by forever dashing hard-working people’s hopes of advancing.

Huge profits come from student loans. Today, most CCSF students get grants, but these are becoming scarce. When forced to enroll fulltime because of degree time limits, many will have to take out a loan. Student debt is at epic proportions. A ball and chain for under-employed and jobless students, it means major money to the banks and the U.S. government.

Public education in cross-hairs. Business interests are hijacking higher-ed policy. And the government is in on it.

President Obama’s 2009 American Graduation Initiative for community colleges is drawn directly from the corporate playbook. The plan includes such privatizing measures as partnering with industries and for-profit schools, transferring loans to private lenders, and funding based on student progress. So clearly, the Democrats don’t plan to save public education.

The Gates Foundation’s “Postsecondary Success Initiative” influenced the new “Student Success Initiative” developed last year by the California Board of Governors for Community Colleges and then adopted by the state Legislature. The attacks on CCSF by the ACCJC are lifted from this initiative.

Government and big business personnel collaborate in making and enforcing policy, as exemplified by the California accrediting commission. A private commission, ACCJC is authorized by the U.S. Department of Education, and is under pressure from it, to impose stricter accreditation standards. Its parent organization, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, received $1.5 million from Lumina in 2011.

This colossal, nationwide, corporate-designed shift in policy gets little public exposure. The media, for example, largely avoids the story. Except for one, belated article in February, the San Francisco Chronicle has issued a barrage of one-sided articles depicting CCSF as a basket case. Such major papers are the naked voice of corporate power masquerading as news. The Chronicle is owned by the Hearst Corporation, whose own foundation endows private colleges.

Coming soon to a college near you. This story of austerity-driven privatization is all too familiar. A fiscal crisis triggers investment. If no crisis exists, they create one. But despite $53 million in cuts over three years, CCSF steadfastly stuck to its mission of lifelong learning and reduced its financial reserves rather than services. So then, a sham accreditation scheme was concocted to pry open CCSF’s doors to the looming entrepreneurs.

But, the students, faculty, staff and community supporters are fighting back. The Save City College Campus/Community Coalition’s first meeting had over 350 attendees. Only a militant stance against privatization will rescue this vital public resource, and source of union jobs.

Success depends, in part, on allying with others battling privatization and in calling for taxation of the notorious 1 percent. The wealth exists. It’s a question of priorities, as voiced in demands like, “No to wars and prisons! Money for education!”

Send feedback to San Francisco feminist and anti-fascist organizer Luma Nichol at luman2@earthlink.net.

Also see: City College coalition takes off