Education Standards

Cal Poly gets accredited for 10 years

Report commends school’s graduation rate but points out need for diversity

nwilson@thetribunenews.comJuly 18, 2012 

Cal Poly’s accreditation has been approved for another 10 years, the maximum allowed, ensuring that students will continue to be able to seek federal and state financial aid and have their coursework transferred to other universities and colleges.

In writing its accreditation report, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, which has jurisdiction over universities in California, commended Cal Poly in several areas, including its six-year graduation rate, which increased from about 65 percent in the mid-1990s to 76 percent a decade later.

The report also praised students for voting in favor of a student fee to help pay for course offerings, and it praised Cal Poly for continuing to make progress in a variety of areas in the midst of several leadership changes in recent years, including in its president and provost positions.

Still, the accrediting association offered recommendations for improvement, such as increasing diversity among faculty, staff and students and concentrating on programs that track student progress and help improve curriculum and instruction.

Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong said the accreditation renewal — an intensive process that took five years — underscores the “excellence of Cal Poly that I’ve found in my first year as president. … It’s a credit to former President Warren Baker, former Provost Bob Koob, Larry Kelley (the university’s vice president of administration and finance) and many others over the years.”

That said, Armstrong acknowledged that the university must continue to improve in diversifying the campus, which he said has been a key focus of his since he assumed the presidency in February 2011.

The university will also strive to increase the six-year graduation rates to above 80 and 90 percent in future years, as well as boost the number of scholarships to low-income students, Armstrong said.

He said the university’s engineering department — which has been ranked highly nationally — competes against universities across the country that are able to offer appealing scholarships to students whose parents earn $80,000 or less.

“We need to grow those types of scholarships,” Armstrong said. “We need to grow them many-fold.”

The university will continue to look at ways to attract first-generation college students to Cal Poly, Armstrong added, noting that his parents didn’t attend college. The university will also work to find the best ways to advise underrepresented students in science and math and to hire a diverse faculty.

Jim Maraviglia, Cal Poly’s director of admissions, said the university has identified about 20 “partner” high schools in California in which many students tend to be from low-income and underrepresented families and whose parents may not have gone to college.

Cal Poly’s goal is to encourage such students to pursue a college education. To accomplish that, the school has invited the students to spend a night on campus and participate in campus tours, workshops and games organized for the event.

The university is looking to increase the number of partner schools with the goal of encouraging more bright students to pursue college degrees.

Many programs are accredited, too

Twenty-eight of Cal Poly’s 64 bachelor’s degree programs are accredited or approved from organizations in their fields that assess them, said Mary Pedersen, Cal Poly’s associate vice provost for programs and planning.

But Pedersen said that some degrees such as English don’t have an accreditation process. And some programs are choosing for now not to pursue the intensive process because they believe they can be successful without conforming to operational guidelines set forth by an accreditation body.

For example, the journalism program — which lost its accreditation in 2002 — isn’t seeking to renew its status but is striving to strengthen the program and is in the process of hiring a department chair.

The program lost its accreditation because of high faculty turnover, inadequate equipment and buildings, apparent resistance to change on the part of the then-department head and lack of commitment to diversity. Since then, leadership has strived to address those problems as it tried to regain accreditation.

The announcement about Cal Poly comes as Cuesta College struggles to retain its own accreditation. Cuesta has until October to prove that it has improved in three key areas — planning and assessment, technology resources, and financial planning and stability.

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges has cited years of volatile leadership and a lack of high-level attention to the required standards.

Cuesta College is now in the final stage of sanction: It must fix the identified problems this year or it will lose its accreditation and face closure.

The college already has completed several steps, including developing a five-year education master plan as well as laying out how to better handle long-term fiscal obligations, including loans, Cuesta President Gil Stork said.

The college still must complete tasks that include a report preparing for the possible closure of the college.

“Our goal is to satisfy the outline of recommendations and to be re-affirmed,” Stork said.

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