After several months of work — and a $50,000 payment to a consulting firm hired to help with strategic planning — Cuesta College has again failed to pass its accreditation test.
It now has until Oct. 15 to correct four remaining deficiencies or face the possibility of losing accreditation.
Cuesta can’t afford to take that chance.
Losing accreditation wouldn’t just harm Cuesta’s reputation. It also would mean that course credits earned at Cuesta might not transfer to other colleges and universities. Also, students would not be eligible for certain types of financial aid.
Some background: Cuesta’s problems with the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges date back to February 2009, when the college was issued a warning letter.
A year later, it was placed on probation; a follow-up review took place in the fall.
Cuesta officials believed they had addressed the commission’s concerns, but last week, they were notified that four of six recommendations still have not been satisfied.
Throughout this process, it’s been frustrating to us — and no doubt more frustrating to Cuesta College — that the shortcomings listed by the accreditation commission have little, if anything, to do with the quality of instruction.
Rather, most problems stem from lack of long-term planning. A lack of financial planning and stability, for example, has repeatedly been mentioned.
In its most recent report, the commission said the “college has not developed a plan as to how (it) will address the reduction in ongoing state funding starting 2011-12.”
California’s community colleges already are at the mercy of the state, and now an accreditation commission is demanding that Cuesta improve its fiscal planning to “ensure sufficient funding levels for ongoing operations”?How about demanding the same from Sacramento?
Not that Cuesta should be let completely off the hook.
Frustrations aside, we do believe the commission makes some valid points, particularly when it faults the college for not acting quickly enough in filling vacancies and interim positions in administration. We, too, wonder why it’s taking so long to fill administrative positions, and we strongly urge the board of trustees to make filling those vacancies a priority. It especially needs to ensure that it has a permanent president on board by October.
We also agree with the accreditation commission’s observation that the strategic plan prepared by the college — with the assistance of a consultant paid $50,000 by Cuesta’s nonprofit foundation — is essentially a “plan to do a plan.”
The plan is filled with bureaucratic jargon and includes little hard information that Cuesta can use to chart its future. Rather, it lays out a timetable to complete a multitude of other documents, including an educational master plan, a facilities master plan, a technology master plan, an equal employment master plan, an enrollment management plan, a resource development plan and, of course, a long-term fiscal plan.
In other words, Cuesta College has a lot of work to do.
While it doesn’t necessarily have to complete all of these plans, it does have to demonstrate to the commission that progress has been made.
When the state is cutting funds for education, it’s a shame that Cuesta has to devote its precious resources to preparing plans and reports.
But we repeat: The college can’t afford to run the risk of losing accreditation. Cuesta College is too important to our community, especially at this time when so many families are struggling to find a way to pay for higher education.
Cuesta has been given another chance to redeem itself in the eyes of the accreditation commission. We strongly urge that it make every effort to ensure that each recommendation is met.
Commission’s remaining recommendations
Cuesta College still needs to complete the following, according to the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges:
Improve planning and assessment in several areas, including program review, resource allocation and student learning outcomes.
Establish a process to ensure technology is up-to-date and meets the college’s needs.
Improve long-term financial planning.
Move expeditiously to fill vacancies and interim positions in the administration.