Cuesta College keeps accreditation, becomes model for other schools facing loss of theirs

The grueling, years-long struggle by Cuesta College to retain its accreditation is now being used as a teaching experience for other community colleges in the state.

In February the college was taken off the "show cause" status by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, and was downgraded to the least serious form of sanction, a warning status.

The process to get there involved teams of people, endless hours of work and the final acknowledgment that the college had to make changes in order to move forward.

Now, the City College of San Francisco and the College of the Sequoias, both in show-cause status, are looking to Cuesta College for guidance. Under show cause, both colleges must demonstrate that they can meet the demands of accreditation or risk losing it.

Kevin Bontenbal, Cuesta’s Academic Senate president, was asked in February to make a presentation at the Accreditation Institute through the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. The institute is intended to help faculty and administrators prepare their college’s required accreditation evaluations.

It was from there that the other community colleges struggling to meet the accreditation requirements began to contact Cuesta.

Administrators from the College of the Sequoias, based in Visalia, will be at Cuesta today to glean any guidance. It has until October to prove that it has met the required standards.

On March 6 Bontenbal and Deborah Wulff, vice president of academic affairs, visited City College of San Francisco to chronicle their journey and share insights on past mistakes and successes.

Both Wulff and Bontenbal said the pivotal point for Cuesta was taking ownership of the deficiencies indentified by the accrediting commission.

“The first thing we had to do was accept responsibility,” said Wulff. “We did not meet the standards and we couldn’t do the blame game …We needed to work together as a team because no one is going to win when divided.”

Gohar Momjian, executive assistant to the chancellor at the San Francisco college, said that Cuesta’s willingness to share experiences through the process was valuable.

The San Francisco community college has been on show-cause since last July 2012. The accrediting commission will decide in July if the school will keep its accreditation.

“It is about learning from each other’s experiences and hoping and trying to share the word so that others don’t make the same mistakes,” said Momjian. “We are different colleges but the processes are still the same … getting on the same page to make the changes to improve and meet the standards and cultural changes that have to take place.”