Cuesta College hopes to satisfy accreditation agency

The fate of Cuesta College’s accreditation, currently on probation, will be determined in the coming months.

Administrators recently submitted a 40-page report addressing several recommendations made by the agency responsible for accrediting community colleges.

A two-person accreditation team will visit Cuesta on Nov. 5 to validate the response — and then make recommendations to the commission.

“I feel confident that we have done the very best effort we can to implement the corrective plans that we needed to be in compliance,” said Gil Stork, the college’s interim superintendent and president. “Our new strategic plan is not just a shelf document but a continuous way to do business.”

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges put Cuesta on probation status in February, saying it was not satisfied with progress on several recommendations given to the college in January 2009.

Chief among those concerns was the need for a better strategic plan and the lack of sufficient staff to provide administrative services. The college’s follow-up report details the changes it made to address those concerns.

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.

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

The college has taken various steps to address the commission’s concerns, including the recent adoption of a 2011-12 strategic plan by the school’s board of trustees.

The strategic plan is essentially a document used by the college to set priorities and goals for those years. It also defines how the college will assess its progress toward those goals.

Cuesta was also tasked with developing better long-range financial and capital planning strategies to ensure the college has enough money to continue its operations.

Stork said the college created a three-year fiscal plan to meet those requirements.

“We know that we have to live within the resources we obtain or develop new sources of revenue that we don’t currently have to make up the difference,” Stork said.

Additional changes made by the college to fulfill the recommendations include implementing an annual self-evaluation process for the Board of Trustees.

The college still needs to complete certain improvements.

One lingering challenge is filling a number of top administrative positions that are now held by interim employees: superintendent/president; dean of academic affairs, work force and economic development; executive director of human resources and labor relations; and executive director of institutional advancement/foundation.

The recruitment process for two of those positions was suspended because of an inadequate pool of candidates and is expected to begin again next year.

Recruitment is currently under way for the executive director of institutional advancement, who heads the Cuesta College Foundation. The goal is to have someone hired by spring 2011.

Cuesta trustees voted this month to extend Stork’s contract for an additional year through December 2011. They are expected to begin a permanent recruitment process in January for that job.

Although those positions are not currently filled with permanent staff, Stork said the college has a defined plan on how to proceed and has qualified interim staff in place.

“We have demonstrated that this institution is serious about replacing those positions and has a definitive plan,” he said.

Stork said the process of defending the college’s accreditation has made it stronger.

“It has restored a sense of confidence,” he said. “The college was forced into a situation of having to take a really serious look at its purpose, what the standards are and what deficiencies and concerns there were.”

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.