Cuesta president abandoning ship?

September 30, 2009
Cuesta College President Dave Pelham

Cuesta College President Dave Pelham


Cuesta College President Dave Pelham, who came to San Luis Obispo last year to take over running the community college campus, is looking for work elsewhere at a time when Cuesta faces a tough fight to retain its accreditation.

CalCoastNews has learned that Pelham is one of 11 applicants vying to become the next chancellor of Alabama’s two-year community college system. Along with seven additional out-of-state applicants, Pelham is scheduled for an interview in Alabama on Thursday, according to, a technology and communications Web site.

Since the report surfaced on that site last week, several newspapers in Alabama have also reported that Pelham is a candidate for the chancellor’s job there.

“It’s a unique opportunity, so he jumped at it,” said Cuesta media relations coordinator Jill Ivie. “He [Pelham] has family in that area.”

News of Pelham’s search for a new job comes at a time when Cuesta is undergoing another audit to keep its accreditation. According to the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, which oversees education in California’s two-year colleges, a warning was issued to Cuesta administrators on the basis of a progress report from an Oct. 13, 2008 on-site visit.

In an action letter sent to the college in January, the ACCJC listed nine recommendations that focus on issues about student learning outcomes, technology resources, financial planning, and leadership. Failure to comply with these issues could result in the campus losing its accreditation.

“To meet standards, the team recommends that the Board of Trustees delegate full responsibility and authority to the superintendent/president to implement and administer board policies and the effective operation of the institution,” according to a 42 page letter from the commission to Cuesta on Feb. 3, 2009.

Accreditation is an established process for evaluation and quality assurance for education used by the American higher education community. If accreditation were to be lost, course credits would no longer be transferable to other two-year colleges and four-year institutions. Also, students would be unable to collect financial aid.

Pelham took the helm at Cuesta in March 2008. His appointment followed the ACCJC’s warning to the college that it had several deficiencies, including staffing shortages, which imperiled its accreditation. At that time, seven administrative staffing positions, including the president and vice president positions, were either vacant or filled with interim appointments.

Prior to Pelham’s appointment, the top position was held for a year by an interim appointment following the 2006 departure of former Cuesta president Marie Rosenwasser.

Currently, campus officials are assembling a compliance report that is required to be submitted to the ACCJC by mid-October.

Forewarned in 2002 that issues regarding program reviews and unit-planning processes could result in the loss of the college’s accreditation, Cuesta College officials admit they fell short in properly addressing the commission’s recommendations.

In early 2008, following the passing of federal laws that require the commission to take action against colleges that fail to comply with recommendations within two years, the Commission placed Cuesta on warning status.

For six months, at the end of 2008, Cuesta was able to shed its warning status and fully reaffirm its accreditation, though by early 2009, the commission had again placed Cuesta on warning status because of a new list of inadequacies.

“There is the two year rule,” said Barbara Beno, president of the accrediting commission. “Colleges out of compliance must come into compliance within two years or we must terminate their accreditation.”

In January, the commission is slated to meet to evaluate the college’s progress which could lead to a variety of actions including removal of accreditation.

“We have been working to address all the issues,” Ivie said. “I think a lot of it is related to the budget.

“And another part is process and planning because before Pelham came, we had a lot of interim positions. A permanent president and top tier of administration in place contributes to process and planning which will address these issues.”

When asked how the campus accreditation issues would be affected if Pelham left, Ivie said, “I think that’s a bridge we will have to cross when we come to it.”

Cuesta has 13,000 enrolled students. Another 30,000 people attend community education classes, short courses, and continuing education courses.


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By: JorgeEstrada on 10/1/09

Maybe Cal Poly, the foundation, will buy Cuesta College too? This would limit some of the duplication and provide more teaching jobs.

By: mccdave on 10/1/09

Well, he writes like a junior college administrator.

I recently toured the Cuesta Campus for the first time in many years, and it’s as dreary as ever. Even modest vocational schools in Europe have a much better vibe. At bottom, it must be America’s anti-intellectualism that puts a layer of grime over every school from JuCo down.

By: congaltonkvec920 on 10/1/09

Here is what David Pelham announced to the Cuesta community in a campus wide email:

“There is a rumor around campus that I am seeking another job. I have accepted an invitation to interview for the State Community College System Chancellor’s position in Alabama. I am not looking for another job, but there are literally only 50 of these positions in the country, so I could not pass up the opportunity to try for one, especially one that is only 4 or 5 hours away from my grandchildren. Should this not work out, which is entirely possible, I would not consider other positions unless they represent truly unique and exceptional opportunities as this position does.

I do not have specific opportunities in mind when I make this statement and assure you that extremely few positions would meet these criteria. I think for most of us there are a few opportunities which we would be hard pressed to pass up.

For me this is one of those opportunities and I hope you will understand my desire to explore it even in these difficult times.

I will be leaving for the interview with the Alabama Board of Education and the Governor of Alabama early Wednesday morning and will return to California Friday evening. While I am off campus I will be readily available by phone. Dr. Greiner will be the administrator in charge should something come up that I can not deal with by phone.

I still look forward to seeing you around campus!

Dave Pelham

The Trib will probably run the story by the weekend. LOL!

By: CitizenB on 10/1/09

What is the line about rats and sinking ships?

By: BeenThereDoneThat on 9/30/09

Would the last one out of California please shut off the lights.

Oh that is unless they go out (or blackout) on their own first.

What has happened to California???

Not to sound like a booty rant but we are losing more and more quality people in the last twenty years from tech, to aerospace, to out of state jobs and being left with low paying service jobs and a bunch or illegals and people on welfare and no jobs or industry to pay the bills on all this etc. through quality jobs. Gads.

By: rogerfreberg on 9/30/09

Actually, the kindergarten through community college system has it a lot easier than CSU and 4 year institutions as they have a mandated proportion of the state budget… they get theirs first.

The CSU and the 4 years have to float with prisons and welfare and such… not easy. Add to this that no one in any educational system has any experience running an organization whose budget is declining and you have a recipe for disaster.

Managing Cuesta’s challenges should be relatively straightforward … but the experience is lacking. They really don’t know what to do… so they do nothing.

Time takes care of these little things and makes for drastic changes when a little thoughtful insight could mitigate and ease the situation.

Not to worry, the folks over at Cal Poly have everything well in hand… they’re paying somebody to survey faculty, staff, students and almost everyone out to find out how great they are. I’ve heard some of the questions… a bit slanted to the ‘right answer.’ I think ACORN is helping them out! ;)

This is not something boys and girls that you can ‘spin’ your way out of.


By: rukidding on 9/30/09

Do you blame him? What an opportunity to get out of California.