Cuesta prepares to reduce programs

Looking to enroll in a few prep classes before taking the test to get your real estate license? Take a dance class? Or possibly learn about cooking?

After Wednesday, those may no longer be options at Cuesta College.

The Cuesta College trustees are being asked to eliminate 10 programs and scale back 12 others to cut more than $800,000 from the community college’s budget.

If approved, about 45 part-time instructors will lose work each semester. No full-time instructors will lose their jobs.

In October, the college released a list of 29 of its 74 programs — about 39 percent of all the programs offered at Cuesta — to be ranked for possible elimination. It wound up not having to cut all of them because voters approved Proposition 30 in November.

The programs slated for elimination include: agriculture technology; culinary arts; real estate; physical science; fashion design and merchandising; hospitality; work experience/workplace readiness; vocational ESL; digital art; and dance.

Some of the courses could be eliminated as soon as the spring semester.

President Gil Stork said the cuts are necessary to comply with a long-term budget reduction plan recently submitted to the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

The budget reduction plan is a way of demonstrating fiscal solvency in future years, something the college had been criticized by the accrediting commission for not doing in the past.

The money saved through the latest program cuts will be put into reserves to help the college better prepare for inflation and volatile state funding.

“The money will be used so that we won’t have to go through hard budget cuts every year,” Stork said. “To do that, we have to do some relatively heavy lifting at this point.”

Smaller footprint

The targeted programs were determined by the president’s Cabinet, with input from the Office of Academic Affairs.

Stork said the list was determined by efficiency — many of the programs required more hours of instruction than enrollment could warrant. Additional criteria — such as completion rates, retention and the number of degrees offered — were then evaluated, he said.

The College Council — a panel of top administrators, division chairs, faculty members, classified staff and a student representative — then prioritized that list, making a final recommendation to Stork.

Staff members from each program slated for elimination made their case in mid-November to the College Council before the final recommendation was made.

The push to cut programs has been characterized by administrators as a way to reduce Cuesta College’s footprint. But some faculty say the process has been rushed.

“It’s been a difficult time, and it is unfortunate for everyone,” said Kevin Bontenbal, Academic Senate president. “It has created some turmoil among faculty. We are not trying to be obstructionist — we do realize cuts need to be made — we are just trying to figure out the best way to approach that in a timely manner.”

Typically, a task force is created to evaluate programs being considered for revitalization, suspension or elimination.

That process was waived this time, Bontenbal said, and instead the College Council was expected to decide which programs would be cut.

The next step, Stork said, will be to decide the bigger vision of a smaller college. Part of that process will be to look back to the college’s prior offerings when more basic programs were offered.

“During the spring semester, we will have to decide what the parameters of a small community college in today’s world should be like,” Stork said. “That will help us keep our focus. We’ll have to look back 15 years and see what we looked like then and then ask if that is what we want to continue.”

Community programs

Many of the programs slated for elimination were added in the early 2000s, when the college was trying to boost enrollment, Stork said.

Some of those programs might be shifted to the community programs area of the college, which charges full price for the courses.

One program, interior design, will be suspended for at least a year until it can be evaluated further.

The remaining programs on the list will be modified to limit their scope. Those programs include: music-audio; drama; German; French; legal; computer and networking technology; broadcast communications; library/information technology; construction technology; computer applications; office administration; electronics and electrical technology; and architecture.

Physical education courses were not on the list because many of them had already been eliminated over the past three years, Stork said.

Intercollegiate sports would also be tricky for the college to eliminate for savings because of an ongoing investigation after several complaints that the college violated Title IX were filed against the college with the U.S. Department of Education in 2010 after Cuesta dropped its women’s tennis team, Stork said.

“Until we have some final resolution, we can’t touch our (athletics) program,” Stork said.

Stork said the remaining programs best suit the college’s mission of offering transfer, career technical and basic skills.

“We have ample and comprehensive programs in those areas,” Stork said.

The college is awaiting a final decision by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges in January on whether it will keep its accreditation.

The cuts need to be made now, Stork said, to get the college prepared for the next comprehensive accreditation review set for 2014.

“If we don’t follow through with this now, when we are up for review in 2014, it will be right back to another recommendation and back on sanction,” Stork said. “I’m not willing to take that chance.”