Cuesta College explores policy reforms

New recommendations for community colleges that emphasize rewarding students who are focused solely on earning degrees will be implemented at Cuesta College — but not without concerns.

Streamlining students’ paths through junior college and aligning course offerings to those students’ needs are among a series of policy reforms being explored by Cuesta College administrators following the approval of the recommendations by the California Community Colleges Board of Governors.

Superintendent Gil Stork said he worries that those students not on a conventional path might face more hurdles under the proposals.

“Not everyone has the luxury of going to school full time, and we still need the ability to support those people,” Stork said. “This is moving back to the old concept of the junior college where everyone is there to finish a degree or certificate and move on. That is not who we are — our strength is that we take people wherever they are in life and help them determine their goal and achieve it.”

The 22 recommendations, made last week by a statewide task force that met for a year, are intended to improve graduation and transfer rates of students.

Critics of the plan say it will narrow the opportunities of some students by limiting course offerings to those with specific educational plans.

Cuesta officials say the reforms will mean increased student success. But without additional funding it will be nearly impossible to implement some.

“They are all very good recommendations and implementing them will mean more success for our students,” said Linda Fontanilla, vice president of student services. “But implementing many of them is going to be challenging.”

The package of reforms must still be forwarded to the California Legislature before many of the changes can be implemented.

One concern is a proposal that will require students to have a specified education plan to gain priority in registering for classes. Students would be required to meet with counselors often to make sure they are keeping their course load on track with a specific plan in order to keep priority registration.

Cuesta counselors are assigned about 1,300 students each because of staffing shortages, Fontanilla said.

There are seven full-time counselors now and four vacancies because the college does not have the money to fill the positions. Fontanilla said the recommended ratio is 1 counselor to about 400 students.

Student Jake Odello said forcing students to declare a specific path will not always work out.

“If people are put on a grid, it won’t be beneficial to some students because a lot of times people come in with a plan and it usually changes,” Odello said. “This way they may be put on a path somewhere where maybe they shouldn’t be headed.”

Cathleen Greiner, vice president of academic affairs, said other reforms are needed, such as aligning kindergarten-through-12th-grade and community college standards to help prepare students for college-level courses.

“Stronger collaboration alone will enhance our student success,” Greiner said. “The more clearly students understand the pathway from high school to college and have additional academic support to be successful, the better.”

A reform focused on technology is also crucial, she said. But that will require additional funding before it can be implemented.

The task force advises that centralized systems be created so that students can smoothly transition between schools in the community college system.

Additional online resources to assist students in following their curriculum path — a tool that would help ease the burden on counselors — is also recommended.

Cuesta administrators will spend the next two months analyzing the reforms and determining what additional resources will be needed.

“How do we need to respond and change our priorities and what does it mean for Cuesta College will be determined as more direction and details are put into the plan,” Greiner said. “That is where we will have to be responsive. Everything is still uncertain right now, and uncertainty leads to questions about our planning process.”

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