Cuesta College’s long struggle to maintain the community college’s accredited status drew to a close last month during the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges’ (ACCJC) visit this October.
The local community college has been at risk of losing its accredited status since January 2009, when it was placed on a “warning” status. In 2010, Cuesta was given a “probation” status before it was told it would have until this October to “show cause” as to why Cuesta should maintain an accredited status, according to the school’s Web page on the accreditation process.
Members of ACCJC visited the college for two days and spoke with 26 people to review the school’s progress before an exit interview that left Cuesta College administration hopeful, interim Cuesta College Vice President for Academic Affairs Deborah Wulff said.
“It was a very positive exit interview,” Wulff said.
Cuesta College will find out how positive the visit was in late January or early February of 2013, when ACCJC returns its official report on the community college.
Cuesta College’s accreditation renewal with ACCJC was hindered over the past several years by the school’s lack of long-term strategic planning, Wulff said.
That problem has now been remedied, and Cuesta College is confident in its new strategic plan, which was implemented last spring, Wulff said.
“We have all the components in place,” Wulff said. “It’s just that we have not gone through a full cycle of planning.”
Cuesta College’s only weakness during the ACCJC October visit was the fact that the plan has not been in place for a full year yet, Wulff said. Wulff said while the committee was satisfied with the plan and will not revoke the school’s accreditation, Cuesta College will probably remain on sanctions until the integrated planning has been tested for at least a year.
“We will stay on sanctions and we should be very, very happy,” Wulff said. “That’s a win for us.”
Cuesta College’s battle to maintain its accredited status began three years ago during a “perfect storm” of challenges, said former Cuesta College lead journalism instructor and current Cal Poly journalism lecturer Patrick Howe.
While administrators were leaving the school and Cuesta College was working to fill leadership positions, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), which runs ACCJC, was tightening its standards, Howe said.
“Cuesta found themselves in the worst place at the worst time,” Howe said.
Cuesta College officials worked to satisfy ACCJC concerns before the commission’s visit last year, but failed to meet all of the criteria, Howe said. Among these criteria was the need to complete the integrated planning.
Though Cuesta College was making progress, it was placed on the “Show Cause” status and given a last chance to save its accredited status.
“A lot of people were just pulling out their hair,” Howe said.
Howe is confident, however, that Cuesta has proven itself this time around.
“If I had to look at my crystal ball, I think they’re going to be fine,” Howe said.
At Cuesta, students aren’t too worried about the accreditation either, student Nate Holben said.
For Holben, getting the right classes and dealing with budget cuts are more important than visiting accreditation committees, he said.
“I just feel that time could be spent a lot more effectively,” Holben said.
Cuesta College had to create a contingency plan in case the school closed when it was placed on the “Show Cause” status, but Holben doesn’t think the plan will be necessary. The chances that the community college actually closes its doors are slim, Holben said.
“We have a hard time buying that they’re actually going to do it,” Holben said. “You’re just going to put yourselves and however many students out in the cold?”