Cuesta College was recently awarded $2 million by the California Department of Finance as a part of a state Award for Innovation in Higher Education. The award recognizes California districts and colleges that help reduce the time it takes students to complete degrees, reduce the total cost of attendance for students, or do both. Cuesta College was awarded funding for its plans to do both by creating a new program that will allow Paso Robles High School students the opportunity to earn an Associate Degree for Transfer from Cuesta College tuition-free one year after graduating high school. The goal is to deliver fee-free college education by expanding dual and concurrent courses at PRHS and via the already existing Cuesta Promise Scholarship. Students will essentially have the opportunity to become transfer-ready in a traditional high school setting and then during their first year at Cuesta College, resulting in degree attainment at no cost.

“We are extremely pleased with the competiveness of our innovation project,” said Cuesta College Superintendent/President Dr. Gil Stork. “Having the opportunity to work with Paso Robles High School on this model will allow us to develop an educational pathway for high school students to accelerate their education, reduce coursework duplication, increase successful degree completion, and minimize financial indebtedness.”

The innovation award will allow PRHS faculty to use technology in a state-of-the-art shared classroom located on the high school campus to facilitate online general education courses taught by Cuesta College faculty. Over the summer months, courses will be offered at the College.

“The majority of first-time students who enter Cuesta College declare transfer to be their educational goal; only half of them succeed,” said Cuesta College Assistant Superintendent/Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Deborah Wulff. “We realized we can do more to address this issue. With the innovation award, we will provide student support through assessments to ensure college readiness, embedded tutors, and tools to develop academic and social skills, as well as the behaviors and conditions necessary for successful college completion.”

Cuesta College leadership, the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District, and Paso Robles High School are committed in partnership to developing the innovative program. PRHS serves nearly 2,000 students annually. More than 30 percent of the school’s seniors are currently dual enrolled in Cuesta College career readiness and history courses. Approximately 160 PRHS graduates matriculated to Cuesta College in 2015, each receiving a fee-free first year with the Promise Scholarship.

“We are excited to expand our partnership with Cuesta College,” said Paso Robles Joint Unified School District Superintendent Chris Williams. “As higher education costs continue to rise and financial pressures mount, this grant affords us a tremendous opportunity to be innovative and provide great resources to create a world-class educational system. With the grant, we can increase counseling, academic coaches, and after-school tutors for our dual-enrolled students and add coaching for parents.”

The college plans to expand the program to other county high schools in the future. Over the past several years, the college has implemented dual enrollment courses at every San Luis Obispo County public high school, serving more than 2,000 students annually.

A total of 14 California community colleges were selected to receive a portion of the $25M state award. Cuesta College is the only Central Coast community college among the awardees.

For more information, visit the Cuesta College website, California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office website, or Paso Robles Joint Unified School District.