Editorial: Accreditation process will be good for Cuesta College

At first blush, the very idea of threatening to yank a college’s accreditation when the state is in a full-blown budget crisis seems woefully out of touch.

Cuesta College can’t even afford to run a full summer school program, thanks to state budget cuts. Now it’s going to have to jump through various hoops to satisfy the whims of an accreditation committee?

What’s more, it’s not going to be cheap — the college is going to have to fill some vacant administrative positions and invest $50,000 in a strategic plan.

On the one hand, we wish these funds could be spent on something that would more directly benefit students, such as restoring some summer classes.

Yet we have to acknowledge that a long-term plan would be valuable at times like this if it helps the college spend its waning resources where they are most needed.

Also, lack of strong, consistent leadership has been an ongoing issue at Cuesta College — witness the recent turnover in the presidency — that must be addressed.

So as much as we’re itching to throw (proverbial) stones at an out-of-town accreditation committee for waltzing in and telling Cuesta College how to run its business, we can’t do it.

If any fault is to be found here, it’s with the Cuesta College administration and board of trustees for not addressing these deficiencies earlier.

A caveat: We don’t mean to point fingers at current interim President Gil Stork; he inherited the situation that he’s now attempting to sort out, and we commend him for that.

We’re especially relieved to see that he’s taking the threatened loss of accreditation seriously.

It is true that it’s extremely rare for a public community college to lose its accreditation. In California, the most recent case we found occurred in 2006, when Compton College lost accreditation amid allegations of financial fraud and fake student enrollments.

In that situation, the community college was taken over by a neighboring district and continued to operate as a satellite center.

That’s a solution, but we don’t believe county residents would be happy to lose local control.

Fortunately, Cuesta does appear to be on track to cure the deficiencies by the October deadline.

In fact, an announcement of the hiring of a consultant to help with the strategic plan could come as early as Monday.

We look forward to it.

The college should have a plan in place that covers, among other things, long-term demographics, job trends, needs of employers and community interests. Otherwise, it’s basing important decisions involving capital improvements, program offerings and staffing on information that could be out of date or, even worse, based on assumptions.

Thankfully, the Cuesta College Foundation — the nonprofit, fundraising arm of the college — has agreed to contribute $50,000 toward the planning effort. (The final price tag isn’t known — it could wind up costing more or less than that.)

But here’s the catch. If the study is going to be useful, it has to be, well, used.

Too often, we’ve seen government agencies prepare expensive studies to meet some mandate, only to see those reports wind up forgotten on a bookshelf.

That’s where strong leadership comes in — which is one of the reasons we fully support the accreditation committee’s request to see key administrative positions filled.

Bottom line: We agree that some of the committee’s requests are nitpicky and bureaucratic, and it’s unfortunate that Cuesta should have to deal with them right now.

But others, such as strategic planning and keeping key leadership positions filled with competent staff, are fundamental to the success of any organization, including Cuesta College.

In the end, we believe the college will be stronger for going through the process.