Editor’s note: This is No. 3 in The Tribune’s Top Five Stories of 2012 as selected by the newsroom staff. Each day through New Year’s Day, we will count down to the top story of the year.
Cuesta College staff spent the past year entrenched in saving its future, finally acknowledging the dire reality that the college’s accreditation was close to being revoked.
A final decision will be made in January by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.
President Gil Stork will appear before the commission Jan. 10. He will have five minutes to plead the college’s case.
The worst-case scenario, which is unlikely, is that the college will lose its accreditation and be forced to close.
“We are preparing ourselves and the public for the possibility that we will remain on sanction but at a lesser level,” Stork said. “We are not anywhere near being qualified to have our accreditation taken away, but it is naïve to think the commission is going to just go ahead and bless us.”
Meanwhile, Cuesta must gear up to face another accreditation review in 2014. Colleges are evaluated by the accrediting commission every six years.
“We are already starting to work on it now,” Stork said.
The yearslong struggle to fix several deficiencies intensified by the commission has come at a cost: lower enrollment, difficulty recruiting applicants and damaged morale.
Cuesta’s initial failure to fix the problems also led to key changes on campus. In June, the college’s vice president of academic affairs, Cathleen Greiner, was terminated for underperformance. She had been with the college since 2008.
Deborah Wulff, the former dean of academic affairs, now holds that post and has been credited with accomplishing goals that had not been taken seriously enough.
Stork is confident that the January decision will be favorable.
“In the past, we tried to keep a positive spin, and that kind of backfired on us,” Stork said. “We didn’t have the level of confidence we have now.”
In February, the college was told it still needed to fix insufficiencies in three areas: planning and assessment, technology resources, and financial planning and stability. If it failed to do so, the school’s accreditation would be revoked.
The panel gave Cuesta a “show cause” status, meaning the college must show it can meet the demands of accreditation.
“Everything is now in place,” Stork said, adding that the only problem is that the college has not had enough time to prove that the new plans will work.
“There is really nothing we can do about that,” Stork said. “It is really the only dangling piece out there.”
The Tribune's top stories of 2012
1. PG&E's plans to conduct seismic surveys offshore of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant | 2. The ban on disposable plastic bags at SLO County retailers | 3. Accreditation and budget challenges at Cuesta College | 4. The Lisa Solomon controversy in the Paso Robles Police Department | 5. Violence by patients on staff at Atascadero State Hospital
Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.