Cuesta President Gil Stork announced Monday that the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges issued a letter Friday to the college notifying officials of the reaffirmation.
“It sounds easy (to regain accreditation), but it isn’t,” Stork said. “It really takes everybody committing to excellence to make this happen. … To have this turn around 180 degrees is truly remarkable.”
In 2012, the commission put Cuesta on “show cause” status and told the school it needed to fix insufficiencies in three areas: planning and assessment, technology resources, and financial planning and stability.
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If it had failed to do so, the school would have seen its accreditation revoked. Losing accreditation would have meant that course credits wouldn’t transfer to other colleges and universities and students wouldn’t be eligible for certain types of financial aid.
Stork said the threat of losing accreditation can also scare away faculty from teaching and students from attending because of the harm to the college’s reputation and the uncertainty about its ability to prepare students to go on to earn bachelor’s degrees.
The college worked to address the “show cause” issues, meeting most of the demands in February 2013. In February 2014, the ACCJC removed Cuesta from warning status, the least serious of the sanctions.
Deborah Wulff, Cuesta’s assistant president and vice president of academic affairs, said Cuesta’s accreditation team documented 1,400 pieces of evidence that defined how the college is meeting the required educational standards, eligibility requirements and policies.
The regional accreditation commission, overseen by the U.S. Department of Education, evaluates two-year colleges in California once every six years.
As part of the evaluation cycle, a team from the ACCJC combed through Cuesta’s self-evaluation report and also interviewed dozens of Cuesta faculty, staff and students between Sept. 29 and Oct. 2.
With the reaffirmation, the commission issued a single directive to make sure the college’s online courses offer the same quality instruction as its campus classes.
The college must ensure that course materials used in online education are comparable with in-person teaching, and Cuesta must evaluate training methods for distance-education instructors.
About 23 percent of Cuesta’s 9,300 students take online classes through the college, though about 70 percent of those students also take courses in person.
Cuesta received seven commendations from the commission’s visiting team regarding its commitment to addressing its numerous accreditation issues.
That scholarship, made possible by an $8.5 million endowment, covers educational costs for all graduates of local public and private high schools in their first fall and spring semesters at Cuesta. The costs include tuition, materials and health fees, equaling about $700.
Pat Mullen, president of Cuesta’s board of trustees, said the accreditation, coupled with local voter approval of a $275 million bond measure in November, is a reflection of the hard work to provide quality education.
“Our faculty, staff and administration have again been acknowledged for their student focus, hard work and commitment to performing at the highest levels,” Mullen said.
Stork said priorities over the past few years have been to create stable leadership, ensure transparent management, and encourage a collective attitude of taking ownership of responsibility where shortcomings had caused infighting in the past.
“It was about recognizing that accreditation is real and not a political game,” Stork said. “People are taking a lot of pride in the work being done here.”