Progress in online education

PCC recognizes that not all instruction need occur in a brick-and-mortar building. In Spring 2014, for example, 21.4 percent of our student took at least one online class. We recognize that some students wish to take entire degree or certificate programs online. That’s why our involvement in the Open Educational Resources (OER) Degree Initiative Grant is so exciting.

Earlier this month, PCC received the news that it is the only community college in Arizona, and one of only 38 in the nation, to receive the OER grant. Over three years, the grant will allow the College to develop online degree programs using high-quality, free educational resources.  We intend to offer an Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts degree, and we expect 3,500 PCC students will take part on OER courses.

The initiative helps remove a major financial roadblock – high-cost textbooks — that hampers the attainment of credentials for many of our students.

Embracing diversity amid tragedy

Here is a message I sent to the College community on June 13:

 

At last week’s Governing Board meeting, the College shared with the Board a preliminary draft of our 2015-2020 Diversity Plan.

“Pima Community College’s diversity plan supports cultural awareness, and sensitivity in understanding differences in race, ethnicity, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, disability, age, veteran status, languages, socio-economic conditions and political systems,” the plan states. “The concepts of equality and inclusion go beyond ‘representation’ by creating welcoming environments where all individuals feel respected, valued and supported.”

The sentiments and goals embodied in our plan are poignant, in light of the horrific shooting in Orlando, Fla., over the weekend. Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims, survivors, their family and friends, and to the city of Orlando.

As a school, we are limited in our ability to fight terror and hatred. But we can fight ignorance, and we can foster respect and civility by vigorously encouraging diversity and inclusion. This weekend’s atrocity has made the importance of our endeavors in these areas evermore clear.

Progress on Internationalization

I want to share an important document:  “Strategic Plan for Internationalization/Vision 2020.”

Written by Ricardo Castro-Salazar, Acting Vice President for International Development, the comprehensive report details the strides the College has made in multiple areas: infusing global knowledge into the curriculum, creating a language institute, developing community and global engagement, developing a study abroad program, identifying opportunities for workforce development in the international arena, providing international and cultural development for employees, and expanding international student outreach, recruitment and services.

The importance of these endeavors to the success of all our students cannot be overstated. As Ricardo writes, it is necessary “to educate our community for interdependence, global citizenship skills, and to bring the world to our students, a world driven by a global economy and challenges that transcend national borders.” Bringing the world to Pima is an ambitious undertaking that will benefit our students, city and region academically, culturally and economically.

[Read an executive summary of the report.]

Fiscal stewardship

Below is a release sent to the media today headlined “PCC’s Budget Drops $11 Million for 2016-17”

Tucson, AZ – Pima Community College’s Governing Board voted Wednesday to approve the College’s fiscal 2016-17 budget of $247.8 million, a decrease of approximately $11 million, or 4 percent, when compared to the current year budget.

The 2016-2017 budget reflects a significant reduction in spending made by the College to better align its finances and organizational structure with expenditure limitation, revenue, and enrollment challenges and realities. The spending reduction aligns with internal spending decreases that have been in place since July 1, 2015, as well as with the expenditure limitation plan that the College has been publicizing.

The Board of Governors also approved a 1.0 percent increase in the College’s primary property tax levy for fiscal year 2016-17. The funds generated by the levy increase will be used to support capital projects for fiscal year 2017, and will enable the College to implement the initial elements of the educational and facilities master plans that are currently being shaped. The total increase in primary property tax revenues from both new and existing property compared to the fiscal year 2015-2016 budget will be approximately $3.1 million: $2.0 million from growth of new property; and about $1.1 million from the 1.0 percent levy increase. The total primary property tax levy for fiscal year 2017 is projected to be about $107.3 million.

Assuming that assessed property tax values are unchanged year to year, for a residential home with a full cash value of $100,000, the College’s primary property tax levy will result in a tax bill of $137.33, an increase of 44 cents over the current year. For a class one commercial property with a full cash value of $100,000, and assuming an unchanged assessed value, the College’s primary property tax levy will result in a tax bill of $247.19, a decrease of -$6.06 over the current year. Due to the reduction in the assessment ratio for class one commercial property, commercial class one property taxpayers will likely see a reduction in the property tax payable to support College operations.

The College’s primary property tax rate continues to be below the average of its peers, and the primary property tax rate for fiscal year 2017, $1.3733 is almost the same as that from fiscal year 2000, 17 years ago. Pima Community College’s secondary property tax rate will remain at zero.

A presentation made to the Board of Governors on Truth in Taxation and Adoption of Fiscal Year 2017 Proposed Budget is available on the College’s website.

Aviation Technology Center update

Here is a message I sent to the College community regarding our Aviation Technology Center:

I have good news to share about our Aviation Technology Center (ATC).  The College was notified on May 17 that the Higher Learning Commission’s Review Committee has recommended approval of the ATC as an additional location, and this will be voted on at the HLC’s June 26 & 27 meeting.

If you’ll remember, when a college offers more than 50 percent of the coursework of a program at a location geographically separate from a main campus (in ATC’s case, Desert Vista), the HLC must approve the site. [You can read more about this and other topics in my synopsis of a May 5 financial aid training for administrators.]

Wednesday, Desert Vista Campus Vice President Ted Roush notified Aviation students of the HLC’s recommendation, which eliminates the need to move classes from the ATC to other PCC locations.

The students also were updated that the College still is waiting for the Department of Education to approve disbursement of financial aid to students taking courses at the ATC. The College has been reaching out to Summer 2016 Financial Aid-certified students at the ATC to inform them that their tuition and other expenses that would have been funded with federal financial aid will be paid instead with institutional and private funds. Each student’s financial situation is unique; aviation academic advisors, counselors and financial aid staff are working with Financial Aid-certified students individually to make sure there is a clear understanding of the process. But it’s important to reiterate: all eligible financial aid Aviation students will be held harmless for the summer.

Bringing the Aviation Technology Center into compliance with HLC and Department of Education rules is crucial to ensuring the success of our students in the highly regarded Aviation program. It also serves as an example of the importance of transparency and accountability amid the complexity of higher education regulation. All across the College, employees are working to bring us into compliance with accreditors and regulators so that students can reap the benefits of a PCC education. I thank you for your dedication to doing things right.

View a fact sheet, for more information regarding the Aviation site approval process.

Graduation season

May is the best month of the year at Pima Community College, because that is when we celebrate the achievements of our students. And yes, it takes most of a month to recognize all of their amazing accomplishments.

I have been fortunate to participate in several of the ceremonies. On May 5, I attended a celebration of the accomplishments of students in our Honors Program. The students balance meeting the program’s rigorous academic requirements with work and family life. As part of the event, students displayed and explained the results of their semester-long research projects.

On May 6, I spoke at Multicultural Convocation, our annual celebration of diversity and inclusion. The stories of grit and determination were inspiring shared by the students were inspiring.  I asked the students to consider the words of Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, to remind them about family and heritage: “It is important for all of us to appreciate where we come from and how that history has really shaped us in ways that we might not understand.”

For blogOn May 12, we celebrated the achievements of our students in Adult Basic Education for College & Career (ABECC) at a High School Equivalency Diploma graduation. The celebration had to be moved to a bigger venue because of the large number of graduates, a sure sign that ABECC is doing it right in fostering student success.

The month also included a candlelight pinning ceremony for Registered Nurses in our Nursing Program. Tonight and next week we will honor the graduates of our Paramedic, Law Enforcement and Fire Academy programs.

Last night, of course, was the main event, Graduation 2016. More than 750 graduates, accompanied by their friends and loved ones, received diplomas and certificates. It was an amazing night, thanks to the hard work of our faculty and staff.

I closed my graduation remarks with a quote, variously attributed to Jesse Jackson and Muhammad Ali: “If your mind can conceive it, and your heart can believe it, you can achieve it.” PCC students are achieving great things, and we are proud of their accomplishments.

[Commencement produced countless memorable images. You can find a few in this short video.]

Financial aid update

Below is a message sent to PCC employees last week regarding training for PCC administrators on the important topic of financial aid to students. The training focused on maintaining compliance with federal and state authorities and with our accrediting organizations.

Last Thursday, May 5, we held training for administrators on various compliance areas including some recently discovered PCC sites that do not appear to have gone through a required approval process with the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). This approval process is connected to federal financial aid (Title IV) regulations. At the conclusion of the training, we provided a short review of the training for other employees who were able to join us. This email includes a synopsis of the training and subsequent discussion. However, first I’d like to reiterate the importance of conversations like this.

Many of you have been proactively reviewing policies and procedures throughout the College to ensure that the institution is fully compliant with relevant regulations and requirements, especially those of the federal government and the HLC.

Together we’ve been able to uncover gaps or errors that needed to be corrected. We have self-disclosed to the HLC and the Dept. of Education the areas we’ve discovered, and we are working as a team to correct them. We have received compliments from our regulatory bodies for doing this, and they are working with us as we make these systemic changes throughout the College. Many of you have been part of this effort and your commitment to making things right shows how many people we have here at PCC who care deeply about the institution and our students.

Several aspects of how federal financial aid regulations impact College operations were reviewed in the training:

1. Selective Admissions – Students must be fully admitted into an eligible program before they can receive federal financial aid for that program. As of January 2016, PCC identified 26 programs that were not appropriately coded in Banner as having selective admission requirements, i.e. background checks or course prerequisites. As a result, some students were listed as admitted to a program even though they had not met all the program admissions requirements.
STATUS: IN PROGRESS. Programs are either being reconfigured so they are no longer Selective Admissions, or correctly coded as selective admissions. Students have been notified to either fulfill program admissions requirements or change their majors by 5-13-16.

2. Developmental Education – For developmental education courses to be eligible for federal financial aid, they must be at the 9th grade level or above, and be part of the developmental education sequence. Four courses were determined by the AZ Dept. of Education to be below 9th grade level and therefore ineligible for financial aid.
STATUS: COMPLETE. WRT 070, MAT 082, MAT 086, and REA 071 have been deactivated from financial aid eligibility, and a new developmental education sequence has been designed to comply with Department of Education regulations.

3. Course-to-Program Applicability – Students can only receive Title IV aid for courses in their declared program of study.
STATUS: COMPLETE, but labor intensive. Advisors are manually reviewing records to verify course-to-program applicability. The College is working on various I.T. solutions to automate this process.

4. Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) – The Financial Aid SAP policy must be “as strict as” the institutional SAP policy.
STATUS: COMPLETE. Standards were changed in Fall 2015 to meet the regulations. The Financial Aid SAP Appeals team has undergone training on the level of rigor expected in SAP Appeals review and will continue to do so to maintain compliance and consistency.

5. Administrative Capability — The Department of Education requires that conflicting information be resolved and a system of checks and balances be put in place in the administration of Title IV aid. An HLC Substantive Change application and subsequent approval is required if a college offers more than 50% of a program at a location that is geographically separate from a main campus. Likewise, the Department of Education requires this HLC approval prior to disbursing aid to students attending at these additional locations. PCC discovered a mismatch between the list of approved locations with the HLC and the list of approved locations with the Department of Education.
STATUS: IN PROGRESS. We filed substantive change applications with the HLC in February to seek approval for offering more than 50% of a program at three additional locations (Aviation Technology Center, Maintenance & Security, Public Safety Academy) , and are hoping for approval over the next few weeks.We notified the Dept. of Ed of the mismatch between HLC additional locations and those listed by the Dept. of Ed as approved. They are conducting an offsite program review of two of the locations (Aviation Technology Center and Maintenance & Security), and we should expect to hear on their process in the next few weeks. As we are awaiting approval from the HLC and Dept. of Ed., summer classes at these additional locations are being relocated to the campuses, when possible.

Because Aviation courses cannot be relocated without additional approval from the FAA, the PCC and the PCC Foundation will provide scholarships to summer session students who would have received federal financial aid (Title IV). We hope to have the appropriate approvals for the fall semester from both the HLC and the Dept. of Ed. During the May 5 training, administrators were asked to report any other additional locations where PCC courses are taught, so that we can ensure proper reporting and approval is sought with the HLC and Dept. of Education

Final thoughts
As you can see, ensuring compliance in today’s higher education world has never been more complicated or absolutely necessary. In order to become the premier institution I know Pima can be, we must be self-reflective and knowledgeable about the regulatory bodies that impact the College. We want to do more than what is minimally required—we want to exceed the standard, and ensure that we are catching these issues ourselves.

Compliance is about transparency, accountability, and making sure we are enabling our students to achieve their hopes and dreams. Thanks for your help with this incredibly important work.