HLC update/appreciation

Provost

At the end of the Higher Learning Commission’s site visit to PCC last month, team chair Dr. Luis G. Pedraja noted the “Herculean effort” put forth by the College in conducting our Institutional Self-Study. So it was appropriate that Provost Dr. Erica Holmes (above) and I thank the people who did the Self-Study’s heavy lifting – the 300 College employees and community members who served on our Self-Study committees, and in many cases are still working to improve the College.

Several dozen people gathered last week at our 29th Street Coalition Center to hear Dr. Holmes and I share information about the site visit, describe PCC’s ongoing efforts to instill a culture of continuous improvement, and talk about next steps in the process. Most of all, we wanted to express our gratitude to those folks who put in long hours and made considerable personal sacrifices to make the Self-Study such a powerful instrument for improving the College.

PCC has made great progress installing new processes and structures to address the concerns of the HLC. However, as the Self Study process has been compressed into an 18-month time frame (the typical Self Study takes two to three years), it’s difficult for us to demonstrate that our changes are bearing fruit.

So our work to improve PCC continues even after submission of the Self Study Report and the visit of the HLC evaluation team. As Dr. Holmes noted, we have formed nine Fast Action Teams addressing a variety of topics. The teams are working quickly but deliberately to strengthen our compliance with HLC standards.

PCC soon will receive the report with the evaluation team’s findings. In November, PCC will submit corrections to any errors of fact such as erroneous timelines or data. We also will submit an institutional response report describing our ongoing reaccreditation efforts.

On December 9, I and four other PCC leaders will be in Chicago to take part in a final round of discussions during a hearing of the HLC’s Institutional Actions Council. Dr. Pedraja also will attend the meeting.

On December 11, Governing Board Chair David Longoria and I will lead an information session for the College community and the public regarding our impressions of the meeting with the HLC.

By the end of February the HLC Board will make its determination, and we should be notified of our status in early March.

As I have said in the past, I told the audience at our 29th Street Center that I am optimistic we will be taken off probation. Also, I said we likely will be under close monitoring by the HLC for remainder of the decade. And I said that is a good thing. Of course, PCC must meet HLC standards. But we need to aim higher – our goal should be to be one of the best community colleges in the nation. As long as we keep our focus on meeting the needs and expectations of our diverse students and community, we can succeed in a truly Herculean goal – becoming a premier community college.

Connecting with manufacturing

Pima Community College has been at the center of several recent events aimed at building our relationships to the manufacturing sector of the economy. Here is a look at some of the ways PCC has been involved in connecting with businesses and development groups for the benefit of our students and the community:

ribbonTrane outside

  • PCC hosted the Acceleration Now! Tour at Downtown Campus on Oct. 3. The event was sponsored by Trane, which makes climate control solutions for homes and businesses. The tour is a 70-city trade show featuring the latest in heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment. Originally, Tucson was not a tour destination, but Vice Chancellor of Facilities Bill Ward prevailed on Trane to make a stop here. The result was the tour’s best-attended event so far, as engineers, architects and business leaders joined PCC staff, administrators and faculty in an endeavor whose goals included raising the level of technical education for students and developing the most effective workforce of tomorrow. Hats off to PCC’s team that planned the event for a first-class operation.
  • In conjunction with the Acceleration Now! Tour stop, the College hosted a roundtable discussion featuring leaders of the National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3), which connects businesses and schools to develop and sustain industry-recognized portable certifications in industries ranging from transportation to energy to aviation. [I’m proud to serve on NC3’s Board of Directors.] I moderated a discussion between PCC faculty and administrators and representatives of Trane, manufacturer W.W. Grainger and other companies. NC3 Executive Director Roger Tadajewski noted that 10,000 people retire every day in the U.S., and pointed out that in HVAC, for example, the average age of a technician is 55. “Where are we going to get the talent?” Roger asked, to fill the skills gaps that are widening in many occupations.
  • As part of the Southern Arizona Manufacturing Partnership’s Manufacturing Day event in Tucson, Downtown Campus hosted a tour of its Machine Tool Technology facilities and its Veterans Center. Attending the tour was Jennifer McNelly, president of the Manufacturing Institute, the non-profit affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers. [I’m also proud to be a founding member of the education council of the Manufacturing Institute.] Veterans were the focus of the day’s activities. In a gathering at the Kino Veterans Center, three PCC student-veterans, ranging in age from their 20s to 68, shared how a PCC technical education has helped them sharpen their skills, find jobs or inspire them to start their own company.

Manufacturing employs 155,000 people in Arizona and as Jennifer said last week, the sector is the lifeblood of towns across the U.S. PCC is committed to providing its students with the skills and opportunities to succeed in in this essential economic sector, and to support a workforce that can drive innovation and prosperity in our community.

Agreement with Goodwill

Goodwill, cropped

Today I had the honor of signing an agreement to enhance existing initiatives with a valued community partner, Goodwill Industries of Southern Arizona (GISA). The five-year Memorandum of Understanding will help further realize an important aspect of our organizations’ missions: to provide people with the skills to find meaningful employment and move our community forward.

In signing the agreement, PCC becomes part of the nationwide Community College Career Collaboration (C4). Since 2009, Goodwill and the nation’s community colleges, through the American Association of Community Colleges, have been partnering to improve college- and career-readiness among Goodwill employees and the community.

It’s a natural fit. Goodwill, through its retail stores and Job Connection Centers, is a community magnet for people who are seeking to restart their education after what might be years out of school. PCC has the expertise to guide non-traditional students through the re-entry process.

One such student is Monica Terrill (pictured above), who took a College Readiness class at Goodwill. Monica is a non-traditional student who had been out high school for a while. At first the idea of college was scary. But now she is taking seven credits at PCC in Writing and Psychology. She wants to get an Associate Degree for transfer in Liberal Arts and eventually, a bachelor’s degree.

Monica’s success becomes possible when passionate, capable folks collaborate. GISA Interim President Liz Gulick and East Campus Vice President for Student Development Nancee Sorenson worked together to cement the PCC-GISA connection into a reality.

Adrian Smith, East Campus Student Service Advanced Specialist, deserves recognition for teaching the first College Readiness classes earlier this year to community members and Goodwill employees. Adrian had the answers regarding admission, registration, how credits work, placement, financial aid and other topics. We hope to expand the type of help Adrian provided students such as Monica so many more people in our community can take the first steps on a fruitful education journey.

Connecting with K-12

Metro Tucson’s district school superintendents came to PCC last week for our second annual luncheon, which brings together local K-12 leadership, PCC campus presidents and key College administrators. We shared information about PCC initiatives that affect our partners in the education pipeline, and to discuss ways to connect in order to build clearer pathways to student success, something our external constituents expect and deserve.

Group 1 MM and LL

As at last year’s inaugural event, there was a lot to talk about. Provost Dr. Erica Holmes shared PCC’s progress in redesigning developmental education, based on the bedrock principle of open access. “We meet students where they are,” Dr. Holmes said, and “take them where they want to go academically.”

We are redesigning our developmental Reading, Writing and Mathematics curricula to align them with best practices, and are assessing the impact of an innovative Math Emporium pilot program. Of special interest is a plan to work closely with Adult Education to move students into college-level coursework as quickly and effectively as possible.

A bonus for everyone was a visit by Mark Mitsui, Deputy U.S. Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, who graciously drove from an event in Phoenix to provide an update on federal initiatives to align our education system to meet college- and career-readiness standards. Mark told us, “You are doing hard work, but good work, in creating important seamless pathways” between K-12 and postsecondary education.

The meeting also included a presentation by Dr. Nic Richmond, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Planning and Institutional Research who presented data regarding the high schools that incoming PCC students have graduated from. Executive Director of Enrollment Management Dr. Heather Tilson described PCC’s re-energized outreach efforts, which are an important part of our comprehensive Enrollment Management initiative. Vice Provost Dr. Mary Ann Martinez Sanchez discussed potential alternatives to PCC assessment to determine student placement, such as examining high school transcripts or scores on the ACT, and described our efforts to expand dual enrollment.

The superintendents astutely emphasized the need for K-12 systems and PCC to present clear, unified messages to stakeholders, be they high school students and faculty regarding placement standards, or state government decision-makers as we explore ways to remove regulatory obstacles to dual enrollment expansion.

Cohesive, focused collaborations can pay big dividends – PCC’s recent $2.5 million grant from the federal government to train adults for occupational careers is tangible proof of that. By strengthening the dialogue with our partners in K-12, we can unearth ways to work together for the benefit of students and the community.

Good news follows good deeds

Pima Community College and nearly 270 other community colleges across the nation received some very good news out of Washington on Monday. We are the winners of $450 million in federal grant money aimed at providing workers with the skills they need to get ahead.

In our case, PCC has been awarded $2.5 million to train workers for careers in aviation, mining and manufacturing. As I noted in the news release that went out yesterday, the award is recognition of our potential to develop Southern Arizona’s 21st century economy.

It is significant that this was a competitive grant. Thanks to the hard work of many, PCC has demonstrated that we can compete on a national level for critically important resources. As Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez put it in an email to grant recipients, PCC now is part of “a community of forward-thinking and impassioned education professionals who are leading a movement to build opportunity and strengthen the skilled workforce we need for the future.”

Just as important, the job-training funds headed our way are intended to foster closer partnerships between community colleges and employers looking for skilled employees. Working in a more collaborative manner with business and industry is essential for PCC and all community colleges if we want to stay relevant in a rapidly changing economy. This grant will help us achieve that goal.

In a blog post published after the grant announcement, Secretary Perez referred to community colleges as “the secret sauce of workforce development, empowering communities, strengthening businesses and invigorating local economies.” As far as I’m concerned, he hit the nail right on the head.

Community colleges: propelling workers into STEM careers

Duval Ducey

Here’s a fact that bears repeating: One in five U.S. jobs requires knowledge of science, technology, engineering or mathematics – the STEM disciplines.

And here’s a fact that might not be so well-known: Community colleges award more than half of post-secondary STEM degrees and will play a major role in developing a career-ready workforce that can invigorate our nation’s economy.

The connection between education and the economy has informed recent visits to Pima Community College by Doug Ducey and Fred DuVal, the Republican and Democratic candidates for Arizona governor. Both men took time out of their busy schedules to learn about our Aviation Technology Center, which Inside Tucson Business has termed “one of the best-kept secrets” in Southern Arizona. Located at the western edge of Tucson International Airport, PCC’s aviation facility is the perfect place to see how we’re doing our part to train men and women for well-paying careers in one of the most vibrant sectors of Arizona’s economy.

Fred, a former member of the Arizona Board of Regents, outlined his plans for education at the Aviation Technology Center last month. Earlier this week, Doug, Arizona’s State Treasurer, toured the center and met with me and several other College administrators. Thanks to Advanced Program Manager Tom Hinman, Department Chair Eric Ross and others at the center, our aviation program is no longer secret from either of the men who hope to lead our state.

Of course, within the region’s aerospace industry, the Aviation Technology Center has a well-known stellar reputation. PCC is one of only a handful of the approximately 160 FAA-approved schools to have curriculum targeted at commercial jet transports and seems to be the only U.S. school teaching Advanced Structural Repair and Modification, a highly sought after and well-paying skill. Over the past year, more than a dozen firms with local operations have hired our students. Median salaries in the field range from $36,020 to $46,680, not including the overtime/shift differential pay that employees often accrue. It is not unusual for experienced, qualified technicians to earn close to $100,000 a year.

The Aviation Technology Center is one of the areas of the College benefiting from the state’s $600,000 allocation for STEM in 2014-15. We also are using the funding for microscopes and other science lab equipment, laptop and tablet computers for mathematics students, and anatomy and physiology models in our health-related professions courses. By improving the education of our students, PCC increases their employability, and we look forward to working with the state to develop resources in the future.

It’s no secret that Arizona’s rebound from the Great Recession has been slow. That’s especially true for Tucson, which recently was ranked 143rd out of 150 U.S. cities recovering from the economic downtown, slightly ahead of Detroit. Nearly 3,000 STEM positions were unfilled locally in the first quarter of 2013. In PCC’s Aviation Technology Program, the number of students awaiting admission exceeds capacity by 10 percent. Against this backdrop, it is important that all our constituents know what is at stake, and the vast potential PCC has as a launching pad for developing Southern Arizona’s 21st-century STEM economy.

Regardless of who is elected governor of Arizona, I am pleased that both of the major party candidates sought to learn about PCC’s aviation program and our critical role in workforce training. My hope is that the investment of time they made in PCC during the campaign will help shape their decisions once the work of governing begins early next year.

Lastly, let’s not forget that choosing Arizona’s next governor is up to us. I urge all PCC students, employees and community members to make their voices heard in the upcoming election. Doug and Fred made a point to learn about us; we should learn about them. Get to know the issues. Familiarize yourself with the candidates’ positions. Don’t miss this opportunity to make an informed choice on Nov. 4. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 6 and early voting begins three days later, on Oct. 9. More information is available from the Office of the Secretary of State and the Pima County Recorder’s Office.

An international program for the 21st century

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The 49 college students from Mexico attending Pima Community College this semester are doing more than working on their English skills and taking classes in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics disciplines. They are part of a culture-spanning initiative that is truly hemispheric in scope.

Last week at West Campus, I had the pleasure of taking part in a welcome-to-Pima for the 50 students. They are here thanks to the support of the SEP-Bécalos-Santander Universidades International Program, in collaboration with Fundación Televisa (a large Mexican foundation). The Bécalos program is part of the U.S. 100,000 Strong for the Americas Global Initiative and its Mexican counterpart, Proyecta 100,000, as well as the U.S.-Mexico Bi-national Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research.

In total, the initiative’s reach extends from Canada to South America, making PCC’s guest students the vanguard of a huge international awareness project that aligns with our strategic goals of enhancing global education at PCC. Having grown up on three continents, I know that living or studying broad profoundly changes your perception of the world. The Bécalos students will emerge with new perspective on the world. So will the students they engage with at PCC, especially the Pima PEERS – Positive Engaging Educational Resource Support. These students are easing the transition to PCC for our guests, many of whom had never been to the U.S. before.

Many people and groups have contributed to the program’s successful launch: West Campus President Dr. Lou Albert, Executive Assistant Geneva Escobedo and Enrollment Program Manager Craig Winters, the International Student Services Office, Student Life Coordinator Jennifer Wellborn, Bécalos Program Coordinator Yvonne Perez, Student Services Advanced Specialist Rose Bolz and Advanced Program Manager Dr. Daisy Rodriguez Pitel, who is putting together the programs numerous pieces. Also, I want to acknowledge Dr. Ricardo Castro-Salazar of Northwest Campus, who was instrumental in making the project become a reality, and Maggie Suárez of Fundación Televisa.

And as always, an effort of this breadth couldn’t be achieved without our community partners. The students’ out-of-classroom education will be substantial, thanks to the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The THCC, led by President Lea Marquez Peterson, will provide job shadowing and mentoring opportunities from a variety of businesses in the research and manufacturing sectors, and will provide help with language skills. Felipe Garcia of Visit Tucson notes that the program is a prime opportunity for our diverse city to make a favorable impression on the students and influence future visitors from Mexico.

Mexican Consul Ricardo Pineda Albarran put it well when he described the Arizona-Sonora relationship as one of the richest in the world, not just in terms of the billions of dollars in trade and investment between the two regions, but in growing opportunities for cultural and educational enrichment. “We live in a global era,” he said. In the 21st century, being a responsible citizen means thinking not only about the folks next door, but also about your neighbors around the world. Programs such as Bécalos send a strong message that PCC is rebuilding its international presence, and all of the students involved can be proud of being part of a project with global impact.