At Cuesta College, the time is past for promises and platitudes

One year ago, Cuesta officials assured us they were doing everything possible to meet accreditation requirements.

“Since taking over as superintendent/president, accreditation has been my top issue,” Cuesta College President Gil Stork wrote in a Tribune Viewpoint published Feb. 18, 2011. “We have lived it, breathed it and worked hard to remove the sanctions over administrative procedures that cloud our much-deserved reputation for excellence. I’m confident that we’ll succeed.”

Yet Cuesta College did not succeed, and now it’s down to its last chance to meet accreditation requirements.

On top of that, it also must develop a closure plan in the event that it does lose accreditation.

Closure is not an option; Cuesta is far too important to our community to risk that. So we have to ask:

What happened over the past year? Did Cuesta College administration not fully understand the committee’s expectations? Or was the college simply not able to meet those expectations and, if not, why not?

More importantly, what will be done differently this time to ensure that Cuesta College does succeed?

We do know that Cuesta has hired a consultant this time to help shepherd it through the process. That raises another question: Why wasn’t that done earlier?

Instead of issuing more blanket assurances — which, frankly, don’t mean a lot at this point — we urge Cuesta College to give the public a clear picture of what occurred and exactly what it’s doing to correct deficiencies.

While we agree there is no need to panic — Cuesta remains fully accredited during this period — it’s unrealistic to expect that prospective students and their parents aren’t going to be influenced by the uncertainty.

That’s unfortunate, because Cuesta College remains a strong institution with dedicated, top-notch teachers.

One example: Some of its vocational programs — licensed vocational nursing, paramedic and auto body repair are a few examples — have a 100 percent job placement rate. In today’s economy, that’s remarkable.

It’s also worth noting that the deficiencies cited by the accreditation committee have nothing to do with the quality of classroom teaching. Rather, they relate primarily to long-term planning, including financial planning.

As we’ve noted before, it seems blatantly unfair to criticize Cuesta College for lack of financial planning when the state is in such a fiscal mess. On the other hand, when revenue is scarce, planning becomes even more important. In that sense, the accreditation committee is helping to protect taxpayers by holding public colleges accountable.

Bottom line: Cuesta College has one more chance for redemption. Instead of relying on promises and platitudes, administration must find out where it went wrong; come up with a plan of action; implement that plan in a timely manner; and keep the public informed every step of the way.

Editorials are the opinion of The Tribune.