The original junior/community college in San Luis Obispo County was initiated as a postgraduate division of San Luis Obispo High School in 1916 and remained in operation until the United States entered into World War I. In 1936, the San Luis Obispo High School District again formed a junior college, which remained in operation until June 1959.

On April 16, 1963, San Luis Obispo County voters approved the formation of a countywide junior college district, serving seven public high school districts. The newly-formed San Luis Obispo County Junior College District served the Arroyo Grande Union High School District, Atascadero Union High School District, Coast Joint Union High School District, Paso Robles Joint Union High School District, San Luis Obispo Union High School District, Shandon Joint Union School District and Templeton Union High School District.

During the 1964-65 college year, the San Luis Obispo County Junior College District offered a limited evening division program with 463 students registering for the fall semester and 696 enrolling for the spring semester. Temporary quarters were established at Camp San Luis Obispo, a California National Guard facility located halfway between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay. Classes and offices were situated in refurbished barracks, recreation rooms, and mess halls.

Despite the District’s modest beginnings, 917 day students and 991 evening students were enrolled in classes by the fall of 1965. Evening division classes also were conducted at three other locations in the county - Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, and Paso Robles. On October 4, 1965, the Board of Trustees of the San Luis Obispo County Junior College District named the new college “Cuesta College.” In 1971, the “junior” college district was renamed to “community college.”

In 1970, ground was broken for the college’s first permanent buildings, located on the 150-acre campus west of Camp San Luis Obispo. During the following 40 years, classroom buildings, a library, observatory, student center, art and music lab building, art gallery, high tech learning center, children’s center, performing arts center, and office spaces were constructed on the San Luis Obispo Campus. In the fall of 2022, approximately 5,422 students were served on the San Luis Obispo Campus.

In the fall of 1998, the District opened the North County Campus on a 105-acre site in Paso Robles. The campus, built almost exclusively with private gift support, has grown from 1,200 students the first semester to 2,329 students in fall 2022. In the summer of 2005, the first permanent building opened to students: The Fox Family Building. This building houses Allied Health, Math, and Science. The college broke ground for a second permanent building in spring 2010: The North County Campus Learning Resource Center. The Learning Resource Center was completed in fall 2011 and began serving students in spring 2012. The building was named in honor of donors Dale and Mary Schwartz and dedicated on May 24, 2012.

The South County Center is an off-campus evening instructional site at Arroyo Grande High School, provided in cooperation with the Lucia Mar Unified School District. During the fall 2022 semester, 952 students were served at this site. In the spring of 2016, the college brought back its free Emeritus College non-credit courses for adults, providing a free source for lifelong learning, vocational education, and cultural development for adult community members.

In 2013, Cuesta College rolled out the Cuesta College Promise, a scholarship program that provided all newly graduated San Luis Obispo County high school students a fee-free first year (consecutive fall and spring semesters). In June 2018, Cuesta College announced the expansion of the program to include a second year of fee-free education for students who have completed more than 50 percent of units attempted and have earned a grade point average of 2.0 or higher during their first year under the Promise Program. Since its inception, the Cuesta Promise has cultivated access by providing over 11,000 San Luis Obispo County students with fee-free college.

In November 2014, San Luis Obispo County residents passed Measure L, a $275 million general obligation bond to address longstanding facility, infrastructure, and technology needs at Cuesta College. New construction under the first bond issuance resulted in the Fall 2017 completion of the Dr. Frank R. Martinez Instructional Building on the San Luis Obispo campus and the spring 2018 completion of the North County Campus Center. Construction under the second bond issuance included the San Luis Obispo Campus Data Center, completed in fall 2019, and the R&B Shultz Early Childhood Education Center completed in spring 2021. The third bond issuance includes the construction of a nearly 34,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art campus center at the San Luis Obispo campus, scheduled to be completed in spring 2025. In spring 2024, the final bond issuance will include the design and construction of an instructional building at the North County campus.

Cuesta College maintains various official designations, including as a Hispanic Serving Institution, allowing the college to apply for grants that expand educational opportunities for Latino/a students, and a San Luis Obispo County Family-Friendly Workplace. In fall 2023, the Aspen Institute named Cuesta College as one of the Top 150 U.S. institutions eligible to compete for the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance among two-year colleges.


Last updated: March 2024