Cuesta College's registered nursing program will celebrate its 50th graduating class Friday morning, and Central Coast native Ronnie Randolph will be among the latest group of students to earn their nursing pins.
For the 47-year-old Randolph, who served more than two decades in the military, Friday's ceremony marks the next step in earning his bachelor's degree in nursing, something the school has made more accessible to local students through its new partnership with CSU-Monterey Bay.
This year, the two schools formed a collaborative associate degree to bachelor of science in nursing pathway, allowing students like Randolph to complete their BSN just 12 months after earning their associate degree. A group of 18 students will earn bachelor's degrees through the program this year, according to the school.
Randolph, a 1988 Righetti High School graduate who served six years active duty in the U.S. Navy, six years active duty in the Army and 11 more years in the reserves, will earn his associate degree Friday and begin transitioning into the bachelor's degree program — without having to go outside of the San Luis Obispo campus.
"It's such an advantage because otherwise you'd have to do either an all-online program, or you'd have to go out of the area to do it," said Randolph, who lives in Orcutt. "The fact that they have it here, and they've already partnered up — so there's already a track made for Cuesta students — to me it was a no-brainer."
The pinning ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. Friday on the San Luis Obispo campus. The school's main commencement ceremony is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. in the Cuesta Gym, with doors opening at 2:30 p.m. The class of 2018 will graduate 946 students, including 440 from local high schools.
The nursing program will graduate 43 students, ranging from 21 to 54 years old, according to the school. Cuesta has graduated more than 1,800 nurses since its first class in 1969.
"Most of our graduates stay local and serve our community in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, surgery centers, clinics, long-term care and forensic facilities," said director of nursing Marcia Scott.
Cuesta's nursing program is highly regarded within the state, having recently received recognition from the California Community College Chancellor's Office health sector for the increases in income, livable wages and employment students experience once they complete the program.
Last year, graduates of the nursing program scored a 100 percent pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), the state board allowing individuals to practice nursing. The statewide average pass rate was 87 percent in 2016-17, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.
Cuesta's program also is exceptionally competitive.
Even for Randolph, who served in a variety of high-level medical positions in the military and has 16 years of experience as a surgical technician at Marian Regional Medical Center, gaining acceptance into the program wasn't easy.
"Once you get in and you look around you," Randolph said, "everyone in this class is super qualified to be there."
Scott added that, according to the Chancellor's Office, students in Cuesta's nursing program "boost their earnings by 136 percent, 84 percent attain the regional living wage, and 100 percent of them earn employment in their field of study."
School officials believe the partnership with CSU-Monterey Bay could attract more students to Cuesta, giving the already thriving program an additional boost moving forward.
"This is an incredible opportunity for our students and the community," Scott said.