Cuesta president says school faces a ‘very, very serious time’ over accreditation

Tribune photo by David Middlecamp

Cuesta College could lose its accreditation if it fails to address several key recommendations in the next eight months, interim President Gil Stork acknowledged Thursday.

The agency responsible for accrediting community colleges this week placed Cuesta on probation, saying it was not satisfied with pro-gress on several recommendations it gave the college one year ago.

The college faces a “very, very serious time,” Stork said, but he and other administrators expressed confidence that they could make the necessary changes.

Cuesta College administrators were initially given a warning in January 2009 by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

Cuesta’s accreditation remains intact while the college is on probation.

If administrators fail to address the recommendations by October, the college must explain in a report why it fell short again. The commission will then decide if the college will lose its accreditation.

The recommendations include the need for an updated strategic plan and long-range financial and capital planning strategies to ensure the college has enough money to continue its operations. The college must also fill several key administrative positions — including the executive director of human resources and the dean of workforce and economic development — which Stork said he expects to happen in May.

The college’s accreditations steering committee began forming an action plan last year, school officials said. “It is time for this institution to take this very seriously,” Stork said.

Accreditation is the process used for evaluating an institution and ensuring quality education, according to the commission. Losing accreditation is one of the biggest setbacks a college can face and could mean that other colleges might not accept the courses or transcripts of enrolled students.

Stork said he expects to name a consultant firm Monday to assist with updating the school’s strategic plan. The Cuesta College Foundation will pay $50,000 for that work.

The plan has long needed to be updated, Stork said, adding that he would not speculate on why it had not been completed by his predecessors.

“Our leadership has been in a state of flux,” Stork said.

In November, former President David Pelham resigned from the post after less than two years on the job. Pelham replaced former President Marie Rosenwasser, who submitted her resignation and retired under pressure from the board in September 2006 after seven years on the job.

The Board of Trustees selected Stork in December to serve as interim president while a permanent replacement is sought.

“It is our turn now to make the change,” said Stork. “We will use this to catapult forward and create stability for the college in these tumultuous economic times.”

June Stephens, executive director of the Cuesta Foundation, said she is confident that the current administration will be able to make the necessary changes.

“We have consistent and competent leadership now, and we are still accredited,” she said. “This is a bump in the road. We will endure, and we will get through this.”

Josh Shepherd, president of the Associated Students of Cuesta College, said he is impressed with Stork’s leadership and is confident the problems can be fixed.

“We are going to do as much as we can in the student government to address the concerns and fears of students,” Shepherd said.

Administrators must file a follow-up report summarizing how they plan to address the recommendations by Oct. 15. A site visit will follow in November.

At that time, the college’s accreditation status may be changed — either removing it from probation or revoking its accreditation.