Cuesta College’s accreditation has been reaffirmed for six years, and for that, the college deserves an “A.” The news is especially welcome after the fiasco of the previous review cycle, when Cuesta College was docked for various deficiencies and threatened with loss of accreditation, which could have forced the college to close.
As we said at the time, the deficiencies cited by the accreditation team had nothing to do with the quality of classroom teaching. Rather, they related primarily to deficiencies in long-term planning, including financial planning — something we found especially ironic since the college’s financial situation was largely determined by Sacramento.
While we’re relieved Cuesta has survived the daunting review this time, we continue to have grave concerns about the accreditation process as conducted by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.
Fortunately, action is being taken to rein in the commission.
Last year, the California State Auditor issued a scathing report on the ACCJC. It was particularly critical of the commission’s decision to revoke accreditation from City College of San Francisco, a move that was halted by a judge’s ruling.
Among the state auditor’s findings:
The commission was inconsistent. For example, it decided to terminate CCSF’s accreditation after allowing it only one year to cure deficiencies; other colleges had been given up to five years.
The commission’s deliberations lacked transparency.
The commission sanctioned community colleges in the Western Region, which includes California, far more frequently than commissions in other parts of the country. Granted, there were some extenuating circumstances contributing to the higher rate: The Western Region has more levels of sanctions and it has a shorter accreditation cycle — a review every six years as opposed to every seven to 10 in other areas.
That begs the question: Why should California community colleges be subject to review more frequently than colleges in other parts of the nation?
That creates a tremendous burden for colleges; Cuesta, for example, pulled together 1,400 pieces of evidence for the latest review.
Another concern: The ACCJC has been operating as a powerful monopoly; it’s been the only agency authorized to accredit California community colleges.
Last month, however, the California Community College Board of Governors removed language from its regulations that gave the ACCJC the exclusive right to accredit colleges in California. That means the Board of Governors could designate a different accrediting agency to operate in the state, though it’s unclear whether or how quickly that might happen.
Besides, no matter what agency is in charge of accrediting community colleges, we believe safeguards and oversight are needed to ensure transparency; meaningful benchmarks; uniform treatment of community colleges; and reasonable requirements that reduce the burden on colleges. (Again, why not extend the accreditation cycle from six years to, say, eight or nine?) We congratulate Cuesta College on its performance. But what happened before — not just to Cuesta, but to the many other community colleges in the state burdened with sanctions that, in some cases, appeared arbitrary and unnecessarily harsh — cannot happen again.
To ensure fair and equal treatment in the future, we strongly urge all state officials with oversight of community colleges, as well as the state Legislature, to continue their scrutiny and overhaul of the accreditation process.