Debunking student success myths

After several years of discussion about, work on, and sometimes controversy over student equity and the achievement gap at CCSF, these issues have mostly been lost in the accreditation crisis. For those of us that have actively pursued changes at the college to address the success of our African-American, Latino/a, Filipino/a, Pacific Islander, Native American, and other populations for which there are achievement gaps, it’s been frustrating that the accreditation standards don’t directly address this issue. But recent claims purporting to defend City College  based on our students’ success, both at CCSF and after they transfer, bring this conversation back to the fore.

I’ve been hearing two claims:

  1. Transfer students from CCSF do better at 4-year institutions than transfer students from other community colleges;
  2. CCSF students are more successful than the state average on the California Student Success Scorecard.

Let’s fact check claim #1: there is no data. The claim is unsubstantiated hearsay. In fact, I’ve seen no data at all that compares transfer students from different community colleges after they transfer. So, while I’d like to think CCSF students do as well or better than students from other community colleges after they transfer, I have no evidence that they do. If someone out there has the data, please send a link. If there is no data, then people need to stop making this claim.

There is data for claim #2: the statewide overall completion rate for community colleges is 49.2%; the overall completion rate for CCSF is 55.6%. Clearly, these data make it clear that City College students are completing at a substantially higher rate than the state average – but looking more closely at the data, disaggregated by ethnicity, a different picture emerges:

Completion Rate* for Cohort Tracked for Six Years Through 2011-12

State CCSF


49.2% 55.6%


39.0% 37.6%

American Indian/Alaskan Native

38.5% 23.8%


66.7% 71.7%


50.6% 34.6%


39.5% 39.1%

Pacific Islander

40.9% 38.6%


53.5% 50.8%

(*Completion Rate = percentage of degree and/or transfer-seeking students tracked for six years through 2011-12 who completed a degree, certificate or transfer related outcomes.)

The only ethnicity for which City College students surpass the state average completion percentage is Asian. For every other ethnicity, including White, CCSF students complete at lower percentages than the state average. For American Indians/Alaskan Natives and Filipinos the City College numbers are significantly lower.

People making claims about how successful our students are should make it clear exactly to which students they are referring. And any changes we make to retain accreditation should also help to close achievement gaps and make the college better for all our students.


4 responses to “Debunking student success myths

  • Francine Podenski

    I don’t know about data, but Broadcast Electronic Media Arts faculty are told every year by SFSU-BECA that students who have transferred from CCSF-BEMA have a much higher BA completion rate than students who started at SFSU as freshmen. I have heard other chairs in other disciplines mention similar info. It might be an interesting idea for CCSF Research and Planning to drill down by discipline and produce data that would highlight exactly where in our college the achievement gap problems really are. This would help us better address and resolve the problems that you describe here.

    • Hal Huntsman

      The question you are addressing (comparing transfer students to students that started at CSU) is not the same as the one I discussed in my post (comparing transfer students from CCSF to transfer students from other community colleges). But either way, we still have no data.

  • Terence Yancey

    Honesty is a 2-way street, so I have some questions for you:

    1- Can you give a concrete explanation of how following the recommendations of the ACCJC will help close the achievement gap at CCSF?

    2- Can you respond to concerns that the ACCJC’s recommendations would actually exacerbate the achievement gap, and push low-income students and students of color toward for-profit colleges and predatory student loans?

    3- Who specifically is saying that CCSF doesn’t have any issues with equity or completion? Are you attributing this opinion to everyone who is opposing the ACCJC (or just a few individuals)?

    I also have to disagree with you when you say that equity has gotten lost in the accreditation crisis. Many students of color, such as myself, are involved in the protests and are fighting not only to save City College, but also to fix the real problems the college has (not the ACCJC manufactured ones).

    I’m sure you have valid complaints about certain members of the CCSF faculty and staff. But don’t mischaracterize and entire movement in the process. Many of us have been fighting for educational equity long before now, and will continue fighting for it the rest of our lives.

    Feel free to email me, I’d love to continue this conversation. Hopefully we can find some common ground in organizing to make our college more equitable.

    • Hal Huntsman


      Thanks for your questions and the dialog. If you want to help close achievement gaps at CCSF, we are allies.

      To be clear: at no point in my post do I characterize any group of people, including any group opposing the ACCJC. Instead, my point in the post is to say that when people make claims about student success at CCSF, they are not telling the whole story. Sometimes (see claim #1 from the post), they are just making up stories.

      We are in complete agreement about fixing City College, including things that are not mentioned by the ACCJC — however, when I read the reports, I mostly see a fair representation of things that are really wrong at the college. I say, let’s fix both.

      That said, I’ll do my best to answer your questions from my perspective:

      1. As far as I can tell, the ACCJC standards do not address the achievement gap at CCSF or anywhere else — that is the frustration that I express at the beginning of my post. So, in this sense, following the recommendations won’t necessarily do anything to increased student equity. If, in this post or elsewhere, something I have written or said suggests something else, then I have not been clear.

      2. I have seen or heard no clear link between any of the ACCJC recommendations and harm to low-income students and students of color. In an effort to protect their jobs, it has been convenient for some people at the college to talk about threats to these groups of students and folks understandably get upset when they hear those threats. But, in the past, those same people fought against reforms at the college designed to help exactly those students. If and when a policy proposal concretely threatens these groups of students, I and many others will be right there with you fighting to prevent those changes.

      3. I have heard many people at various public meetings making the claims about the success of CCSF students that I mention in the post. I don’t know most of these people, so I can’t give you names. Recently, Rick Sterling published a piece ( that makes similar kinds of claims, which also are not disaggregated by ethnicity.

      Finally, it is only by following the ACCJC’s recommendations that CCSF will remain open for all our students. Anything else will be a tragedy for student equity and for our community.

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