A milestone in the rebuilding of PCC

The College received good news yesterday: A team from the Higher Learning Commission, the organization that accredits higher education institutions such as PCC, has recommended that our probation be lifted and that our accreditation be affirmed for the next 10 years.

As I wrote in a message to the College community, the team’s report affirms that, because of the hard work of many, we have made great strides in rebuilding Pima and addressing the many serious problems that led us to probation. I thank those whose tireless efforts have helped us reach this milestone.

However, our comeback is just beginning. The HLC team recognizes that many of our initiatives are new and have yet to bear fruit. That is why the team recommended that our status be changed to “on notice.” The HLC will continue to closely monitor us for the next few years and plans a focused follow-up visit no later than March 2016.

That’s a good thing. We are committed to constantly trying to improve our programs and services.

For PCC, the best is yet to come. We are on course to ultimately be one of the nation’s premier community colleges.

Expanding opportunities


I had the privilege last week of attending two events illustrating the breadth of activities the College is undertaking to expand community engagement in ways that transcend state and national borders.

Members of the Mexico Consulate General’s office in Tucson visited the College Friday to memorialize the PCC Foundation’s receipt of a $90,000 grant from the government of Mexico through their Institute of Mexicans Abroad (IME). The grant supports attainment of postsecondary education by Mexican immigrants and Americans of Mexican origin at PCC.

This initiative is connected to two education efforts that are hemispheric in scope: the U.S.’100,000 Strong for the Americas Global Initiative, which seeks to increase the number of U.S. students pursuing studies in Latin America, and its Mexican counterpart Proyecta 100,000. The goal is by 2018 to have 100,000 students from Mexico studying in the U.S., and for 50,000 U.S. students to be expanding their academic horizons in Mexico.

Mexican Consul Ricardo Pineda Albarrán framed the initiative as one centered on student mobility and cross-cultural awareness. Tucson “is the community we want to work with,” he said.

My thanks go to PCC’s Dr. Ricardo Castro Salazar, who has been serving as an external advisor with IME and applied for the grant for the Foundation; PCC Foundation Assistant Vice Chancellor Cheryl House; IME’s Mr. Ernesto de Lucas, who works with 50 Mexican consulates in the U.S. and has been very supported throughout the process; deputy consul Enrique Gomez; and community leader Raúl E. Aguirre, who also is an external advisor with IME.

Also on Friday, the College graduated the first class of Air Force personnel from our Paramedic program. A diverse group of 26 airmen from across the U.S. completed an intensive four-month curriculum. The next class begins in January, with as many as 10 classes planned.

At the ceremony, I thanked Major General Dorothy A. Hogg, Director, Medical Operations and Research, and Chief of the Nurse Corps, Office of the Surgeon General, for entrusting PCC to train the paramedics with skills that could mean the difference between the life and death of their comrades-in-arms. I was moved, as I suspect was the entire audience, by keynote remarks from Dr. Richard Carmona, the 17th Surgeon General of the United States. Dr. Carmona, the son of immigrants whose incredible career began by earning a GED and attending a community college in New York City, described the training program as one example of the many mutually beneficial connections between civilian organizations and the military. He told the newly minted paramedics that what they learned at PCC will let them make a positive impact on the lives of countless people. “Don’t ever doubt that one person can make a difference,” Dr. Carmona said.

Congratulations are in order for our Shane Clark, Sharon Hollingsworth and the team at PSESI for organizing a stirring ceremony.

It’s important to remember that as we pursue opportunities across borders or with varied governmental entities, we are strengthening the entire College. We build partnerships targeting specific sectors in order to spur growth that our institution needs to survive and thrive in a competitive global environment. It is not a zero-sum game, and the winners are our students and the community.

Stronger bonds with PPEP


The College took another important step in strengthening its community connections when Dr. John Arnold of Portable Practical Educational Preparation Inc. and Affiliates (PPEP) and I last week signed a Memorandum of Understanding between our two institutions.

Memoranda of Understanding are designed to expand and enhance relationships between organizations whose mission and goals are well aligned. Our organizations have a good foundation to build upon. Graduates from PPEP’s TEC High School attend PCC, and the College’s East Campus Upward Bound college preparatory program serves PPEP TEC Victor Soltero Charter High School.

Like PCC, PPEP is committed to reaching populations that historically have been underserved educationally. PPEP operates both brick-and-mortar charter schools and has a robust K-12 online learning initiative that is part of a holistic suite of services, including job training and microfinance. And, like PPEP, the College recognizes the importance of creating seamless transitions from high school to postsecondary education opportunities.  Long gone are the days of allowing students to wander in the woods while they try to find their career path.

Among the topics that may be explored by PCC and PPEP are faculty-to-faculty meetings, dual and concurrent enrollment opportunities, development of online and other programs to prepare PPEP students to successfully move to higher education, and development of a completion program for foreign-educated students. The College is embarking on a re-imagination of its online curriculum and is expanding global initiatives because we recognize the need to create access in the most universal sense. That is part of our vision, and it makes economic sense too, given that 95 percent of our audience lives outside the U.S.

Dr. Arnold used a very apt metaphor in describing the significance of the memorandum, likening it to throwing a pebble into the water and watching the ripples spread out. Both PPEP and PCC are committed to reaching neighbors at the outermost ripple – those who lack access to our services because of geography, language or economic circumstance. By finding common ground and working together, our organizations can reach out and offer a foothold on the ladder of educational and economic opportunity to the people who need us the most.

Plenty to be thankful for

El Rio 1

My visit to the El Rio Learning Center today reaffirmed that the College provides access to a phenomenally wide spectrum of community members.

I met students in a High School Equivalency preparation mathematics class, where I tried to impress upon them the need for everyone to have a solid grounding in math in order to make sensible financial choices, whether for a family or for a large community college such as PCC. I also met students in our Refugee Education and English Language Acquisition for Adults programs. The refugee-students came to us from Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Bhutan and the Congo, among other nations. To a person, they were grateful for the opportunity to restart their lives in the U.S.

Similarly, our ELAA students were both diverse in background and unified in their appreciation for the opportunities PCC affords them. They are learning English to get better jobs, start a business, volunteer in their children’s classrooms, or improve communication with their loved ones; two recently became U.S. citizens.

The key point to remember is that although they come to us from around the globe and from all walks of life, these folks are Pima Community College students. In their desire to improve their circumstances through education, they are no different from anyone else at PCC. I recognize the enormity of the College’s ability and responsibility to affect individual lives, and am thankful that PCC has the opportunity to serve them.


Keeping students informed about healthcare

healthACA blog pic Flipped

Helping students achieve their academic goals is, of course, a priority for Pima Community College. But we also are committed to a holistic approach that addresses students’ needs outside the classroom. Access to quality healthcare is an ongoing concern for many of our students.

CC student Rahsheen Taborn (at far right in photo), a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, is grateful for the help PCC advisors and her fellow student-veterans provided as she searched for health insurance. But she knows that not everyone has that type of peer support. The reality is young adults have low health insurance literacy rates and are unfamiliar with basic terminology like co-pay and deductible. [Rahsheen, Downtown Campus’ student body president, is paying it forward by helping organize a healthcare information fair at Downtown in early 2015.]

Ensuring that all PCC students get a more complete understanding of the Affordable Care Act was one of the goals of a gathering Tuesday at Downtown Campus. The College was proud to host the information-sharing session, which was especially timely as the open enrollment period for health insurance began Nov. 15, and runs through Feb. 15, 2015.

The session featured talks by Rahsheen; Diane E. Brown, Executive Director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund; Cynthia Estrada, outreach supervisor for Pima Community Access Program, which helps walk individuals through the health insurance enrollment process; and Kenneth Shapiro, Interim Regional Director for Department of Health and Human Services. A common emphasis was on getting out the facts, such as the reality that more than 120,000 Arizonans enrolled in health insurance last year, and that 25 percent of those people were ages 18-34 and 24 percent were Latino. PCC’s student demographics align with these statistics, making the College a natural location for disseminating information.

Young people often think of themselves as invincible, but the reality is they need health care coverage because it is essential to their economic security. If a person gets sick or is injured in an accident and doesn’t have health insurance, hospital and doctor bills can quickly exceed that person’s ability to pay. A single visit to the emergency room for an unexpected health situation can run into the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Coupled with college loans, living and other expenses, having no coverage can put a young person further into debt.

Contact information regarding the Affordable Care Act can be found on the College’s Health, Wellness and Safety webpage. Everyone knows someone whose life would be changed by affordable, quality health insurance. It is important that PCC, as an institution of higher learning, lets our students, faculty, staff and community know about their legal rights and options regarding healthcare, so that they can make informed decisions.

Congratulations, Aztec Press

I am happy to report that the Aztec Press, our student newspaper, is doing award-winning work. The paper finished second in a nationwide journalism competition for college publications. The Aztec Press finished second in the College Media Association’s Two-Year Less-Than-Weekly Newspaper of the Year category, announced Nov. 1.

In September, the Aztec Press won second place in its size category for “Journalistic Achievement/Community Service” in the Arizona Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contest.

Congratulations are in order for the student journalists at the Aztec Press, and its advisor, Cynthia Lancaster. This semester’s student editors include Editor in Chief Andrew Paxton, News Editor David Del Grande, Insight Editor Jamie Verwys, Arts and Entertainment Editor Katie Stewart, Sport Editor Beto Hoyos, Photo Editor Nick Meyers and Multimedia Editor Sebastian Barajas.

I’m proud to see that our student-journalists are making excellent use of their First Amendment rights. I think it’s appropriate to note that the same freedoms that make a robust press possible also are the basis of quality education. Teaching and learning cannot occur without the right to come together to share ideas freely. Free speech truly is the foundation of our society.

HLC update/appreciation


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.