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Why no English degree for Cuesta students? 

Since 2000, Cuesta has told students about its English AA degree. But now those students are finding out the degree doesn’t even exist

Cuesta College student Aimee Betts spent the last few years taking the courses she needed to earn an AA degree in English. But when she applied to graduate this spring, she found out that she probably wouldn’t receive that degree.

That’s because, despite the fact that the college has been promoting the degree online since 2000, Cuesta never submitted the required paperwork to the state’s Community College Chancellor’s office.

English Division Chair Ed Conklin belongs to the English AA degree committee. He explained that there are several steps involved in getting a degree plan up and running. And that, Conklin said, amounts to mounds and mounds of paperwork.

“The process is long and involved,� he said. “We want to make sure it’s correct so [the paperwork] is not sent back because it’s inaccurate.�

Vice President of Student Learning Harry Schade had a different explanation. He said Cuesta was under the impression that it could develop AA degrees locally, without state approval.

“But a change in the chancellor’s office took the grandfather clause away,� Schade said. “I’m sure that’s what happened with the English Department.�

Schade added that he wasn’t totally defending the English department, and that to some degree the college has “egg on our face� due to the time frame involved.

Betts, who will probably have to receive a general studies degree when she graduates, says the important thing is that inaccuracies are corrected. What struck her most profoundly when she first learned that the AA degree was not legitimate was that the same rules that applied to students taking classes wasn’t being taken to heart by some of the faculty.

“I was disappointed and surprised that the department was not accurate and more proactive in their own electronic text,� she said. “It’s an English Department. False advertisement, plagiarism, ethics — all the things you learn in college level English classes, and I just thought the department would be more careful in what they say.�

‘It’s an English Department. False advertisement, plagiarism, ethics — all the things you learn in college-level English classes, and I just thought the department would be more careful in what they say.’

Aimee Betts, Cuesta student

At Hancock Community College in Santa Maria, English professor Bob Isaacson was part of the committee that approved an AA English degree. He said not everyone was happy about the idea.

“A number of individuals on campus in the vocational education area and even in counseling did not think we should have an AA degree English major, because it wouldn’t get you a job,� he said.

The English major was created in 1995, and according to Isaacson, immediately became the largest major on campus, with some 80 students “promptly declaring themselves English majors.� As for the required paperwork to get the program going, Isaacson said it “passed through the typical institutional process and all the attendant paperwork very quickly.�

As for Betts, she’s met with numerous people — from English professors to department heads — trying to make sense of the problem. She also sent a letter out to everyone in the English Department discussing the fact that the degree their department homepage offered, was, as she wrote, “falsely advertised.�

In her letter, she asked the department to make an “amendment/addendum to your web site notifying interested students of the delays in the degree’s availability.� Since receiving her letter, the college has done just that.

Betts also asked that they post these changes on office noteboards, and mention it to students in their English classes. She also asked that the AA degree steering committee “meet all deadlines and requirements, so the degree’s proposal can move more quickly through the application process.�

Looking to the future, Cuesta Vice President Schade said he would like to see a structural system in place to guard against this type of thing happening again.

And Interim Dean of Humanities Gil Stork said students should be aware that unless a degree is posted in the catalog, they shouldn’t be pursuing it. As for the divisional web sites that are currently operating, Stork would like to see them link to the catalog requirements as well so that students are fully informed.

Intern Brenda Willey can be reached
through the managing editor at

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