Scholarship Fiesta 2016

Our PCC Foundation annually hosts a Scholarship Fiesta where scholarship recipients and donors can get to know each other. I shared a few remarks at last week’s gathering, and had the opportunity to meet the extraordinary people who support the Foundation, and the students who benefit from their generosity.

This year’s awardees included Craig Bevan. At 60, Craig is a lifelong learner earning his second degree at PCC, in Paralegal Studies, and sixth overall. Craig is dealing with physical challenges but says they will never keep him from learning.

The student speaker, Itzel Ramos, intends to study Biomedical Engineering at the University of Arizona after graduating from PCC in May. Her career goal is to help design prosthetics for those who have lost limbs. She shared with me that she also is in ROTC, and intends to join the Air Force.

Itzel shared that her mother has worked the graveyard shift at her job in order to help put Iztel and a sister through college. The fiesta’s master of ceremonies, local entrepreneur Edmund Marquez, put it best when he told Iztel’s mom that she had raised a heckuva daughter.

Though coming from diverse backgrounds, Craig, Itzel and our scholarship recipients are alike in many ways. They are often the first in their family to attend college. They come from close-knit, multigenerational families of modest means. Some have experienced food or housing insecurity.  They want to attend school close to home. They need PCC’s flexible schedules to balance work, school and family. Most importantly, they understand that attending college is the pathway to a better life for themselves and their families.

As usual, the Foundation staged a beautiful event in the Community Campus courtyard, with delicious food and mariachi music in a pleasant and friendly setting. Kudos to Foundation Board member Staci Lopez, Interim Foundation Executive Director Rachel Schaming and her team, and to Special Assistant, External Relations Christy Camargo and Support Specialist Chris Mayer.

PCC headed in the right direction

Here is my commentary on PCC’s future. It was published in the Arizona Daily Star on Oct. 13:

On Sept. 26 and 27, seven members of a Peer Review Team from the Higher Learning Commission engaged in 50-plus meetings with more than 250 faculty, staff, students, board and community members, on four Pima Community College campuses.

During this visit, the College was asked to provide evidence that it has put in place systems that demonstrated effectiveness and sustainability in 11 key areas outlined in our “Notice Report” submitted to the HLC in June.  The College made a strong case to be removed from our current sanction of “Notice,” a status that means the HLC sees the college at risk of falling out of compliance with accrediting standards.

It was significant for other reasons as well. It was a turning point, where PCC demonstrated, without equivocation, that it is actively addressing problems and concerns, some of which date back a decade or more, and is fearlessly taking on problems as part of our new culture of continuous improvement.

The visit was not about reliving the past, however. It was about putting PCC on secure footing with HLC standards and strengthening the College for the vital work of supporting our community.

Accreditation reviews usually happen every 10 years, but can happen more often if accreditors find areas of concern. Last week’s “Focused Visit,” was to find evidence of effectiveness in 11 specific areas, including things like implementation of the 2014-17 Strategic Plan and ensuring that proper metrics are being used to address progress in student retention, persistence and completion.

Some of the areas, such as assessing student learning outcomes, were the reason the college was placed on Probation in 2013. That sanction was reduced in March to “Notice.”  Others, including, ensuring syllabi have proper and specific learning goals, and ensuring consistency in review of dual learning courses and dual learning faculty training, were additional findings from a previous Focused Visit.

The good news is Pima Community College has addressed these issues.

The problems we faced were not created overnight and will not be resolved overnight, but PCC faculty, staff and administration have worked tirelessly over the last three years to move the college in the right direction.

It is important to note that Pima continues to be fully accredited. Credits for qualifying courses transfer to our state and other universities. Students who meet the requirements and are enrolled in qualifying programs of study may be eligible for federal aid.

Our community should be proud of the hard work of this college. We also should remember why this visit was important, not just for PCC, but for the region.

As a leading educator for so-called “middle skills,” in demand by manufacturers and other technology and technical employers, PCC not only helps prepare our residents for high-growth, high-wage jobs but also fills critical skills gaps for our workforce.

Further, our transfer programs give students a solid and affordable foundation toward a baccalaureate degree.

This is where PCC matters.

Proud to be an open admissions college, we also have developed a laser-focus on student success.  We have broadened our economic development role to include customized training for incumbent workers, career and educational pathways, and built key workforce partnerships.

Yet, in many ways, we are just getting started.  PCC has set its sights on being a premier community college. It is what our diverse population of students, employers and region need and deserve.

We are grateful to our employees and community members who participated in last week’s visit and to members of the community for ongoing support.  We look forward to engaging you as we continue the good, hard work ahead.

Helping our student-veterans

I had the honor earlier this week to speak to PCC student-veterans, veterans’ advocates and PCC employees at a breakfast sponsored by Support Education and Employment for Veterans, (S.E.E.4Vets). The group, which collaborates with Arizona community colleges in implementing programs that improve student-veteran retention and persistence, demonstrated its support for our student-veterans with a $5,000 donation, and a goal of another $5,000, to the PCC Grants Resource Office.

I shared with the group that the College is moving forward in a variety of areas to improve services and programs for our more than 700 Veterans Benefits Recipients. We have increased staff, and have a new Acting Director of Veterans and Military Affiliated Services, Hector Acosta, a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Army.

Additionally, a few years ago we expanded and improved our Veterans Center at Downtown Campus, which gets about 100 students a week. The center is a gathering place where students can study, relax, and get answers about a variety of topics, including information on transitioning to a four-year college.

One of those aspiring transfer students is Cody Andrews, who served five years in the U.S. Navy attached to the U.S.S. John C. Stennis in Bremerton, Wash. Cody has done two tours overseas, in Asia and the Middle East. He was honorably discharged in 2012 and received a Letter of Commendation from the Fifth Fleet’s Rear Admiral.

Cody intends to study Marketing at the University of Arizona. At PCC, he is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, and has participated in the Veterans Administration Work Study Program, helping hundreds of fellow veterans pursue their academic goals.

One of the high points of the breakfast was a talk by Eli Crane, an entrepreneur who has appeared on the TV show “Shark Tank.” Eli also is a former Navy SEAL. He spoke of the challenges veterans face when seeking employment in the civilian world, and reminded everyone that the skills and values vets learn in the military are those that employers need.

The College deeply appreciates the support of S.E.E.4Vets. I thank Ray Torres, Chairman of the S.E.E.4Vets’ Board, and Vern “Rusty” Findley, USAF, retired Lt. Gen. and Vice Chairman, for the donation, which will be used for tutoring support in English, Writing and Mathematics for student-veterans.

I also want to thank Hector Acosta, Desert Vista Campus Vice President Ted Roush and their teams for their leadership and support of our veterans.

Preliminary draft, PCC Diversity Plan

Earlier this week I encouraged College employees to provide insights regarding the preliminary draft of the College’s Diversity Plan. The draft is available for feedback on the PCC Diversity web page through Oct. 12. I invite you to comment on a document that will map PCC’s future direction in this essential area.

The draft Diversity Plan outlines the philosophical underpinnings of our effort, and recommends goals and activities to fulfill our mission: to provide affordable, comprehensive education opportunities supporting student success, and to meet the needs of the multiple constituencies we serve.

Your comments, questions and concerns will inform a document that will have a profound impact for years to come. As I have said, a commitment to diversity will benefit all students and employees, and enhance the economic and cultural vitality of our region.

PCC’s ‘birth certificate’

I had the pleasure of gathering with employees, Governing Board members and other longtime friends of the College earlier this week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of an important event in our history.

On Sept. 19, 1966, Earl E. Horrell, chairman of the Arizona State Board of Directors for Junior Colleges, signed a resolution paving the way for a junior college district in Pima County.


East Campus

The anniversary was marked at each campus and the District Office with a 1960s-themed event marking the milestone. The resolution constitutes Pima College’s “birth certificate,” if you will.

At District, I noted that what was true in 1966 remains true today: The people of Pima County need the programs and services that PCC is uniquely positioned to provide.

After the signing of the document, the rest, as they say, is history. In 1969, Pima College officially opened its doors. We held classes at Tucson Medical Center, Villa Maria and at a hangar at Tucson International Airport.  Since then, hundreds of thousands of students have taken advantage of a PCC education. Our community has benefited immeasurably.

So it’s important to recognize the accomplishment of those civic-minded individuals from the College’s early days. Some of those pioneers, such as S. James Manilla, president of PCC from 1979-1988, attended the District Office celebration.

Now, you may be asking if our 50th anniversary celebration is a little premature, as the College didn’t open its doors until 1969.  I’ll just say that this week’s commemoration is only a taste of a bigger celebration to come in 2019.

I want to thank Vice Chancellor of External Relations Lisa Brosky, Special Assistant Christy Camargo and their teams for hosting a day of fun and remembrance.




Here is a message I shared with the College community earlier today:

Pima Community College’s strengthened focus on student success was validated significantly today when Gov. Doug Ducey formally endorsed ACHIEVE60AZ. 

achieve60I was pleased to represent PCC at this exciting event in Phoenix.

ACHIEVE60AZ is an alliance of more than 60 Arizona leaders from community, business, philanthropic and education organizations formed to increase the number of Arizonans earning a job certification or college degree from 42 percent to 60 percent by 2030. Nationally, more than 30 states have set similar goals.

The Governor said: “I applaud the outstanding work of the Achieve60AZ alliance for recognizing the need for many more Arizonans to be prepared with the knowledge and skills they need to secure fulfilling jobs. Not only will this raise the standard of living for many individuals, it will attract more businesses to our great state and keep companies here thriving.”

Arizona lags behind other states in the number of adults who have earned certificates or degrees past high school.  The state’s current educational attainment rate is 42 percent, which is the percentage of individuals between the ages of 25-64 with a certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree or higher.

Arizona’s high-school graduate college-going rates are currently slightly more than 50 percent. This places Arizona 40th in the country, well behind the approximate 75 percent that top-performing states boast.

Addressing this discrepancy is critical to ensuring the state attracts quality employers.  Two of every three jobs in Arizona will require additional training beyond high school by 2020, necessitating the drive for a more educated workforce. Important, in most cases, employees will need more than high school but less than a four-year degree.

That’s why the hard work PCC is doing to develop comprehensive educational pathways that link K-12 and the universities, build relationships with employers, ensure programs align with industry needs, and create a culture of philanthropy is so critical.

Further, it’s the right thing to do for the people of Pima County, where our hard-working young adults are striving to make better lives for themselves and their families.

I encourage you to learn more by visiting ACHIEVE60AZ.  You will find this article on the vital role of community colleges.

You also will see ACHIEVE60AZ’s vision for the future:  If “every child, regardless of background, income or zip code [received] a world-class education – from the early years through college and career, our students would be the most educated, skilled and sought after innovators of the 21st century. Arizona would lead the nation in attracting and growing jobs. Everything from property values to health care to crime rates would be positively impacted.”

HSI Week

We are pleased to join President Obama in recognizing National Hispanic-Serving Institutions Week. The President issued a proclamation Sept. 9 designating this week to honor our nation’s Hispanic-serving colleges and universities, including Pima Community College.

The President said Hispanic-serving institutions “have given more Hispanics access to the resources and opportunities they need to compete in our economy. More than half of America’s Hispanic undergraduates attend HSIs, which have played a critical role in increasing access to a college education and have worked to bolster enrollment, retention and graduation rates.”

The proclamation was timely for PCC. Just last week I had the honor of accepting The Edith Sayre Auslander Outstanding Support of Hispanic Issues in Higher Education Award from The Victoria Foundation on behalf of PCC. The Foundation was created to honor Hispanics in higher education as well as those working hard to support Hispanic higher education.

PCC was recognized for renewing its commitment to open access and student success for all students.  Forty-two percent of all PCC students are Hispanic/Latino, many first-generation college students.

Also, exciting, Hispanic/Latino students earning both certificate and associate degrees is up by more than 16 percent from just last year.

In 1992, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) led the effort to convince Congress to formally recognize campuses with high Hispanic enrollment as federally designated HSIs.  To be recognized, colleges must be not-for-profit with a full-time equivalent undergraduate student enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic. National Hispanic-Serving Institutions Week is part of awareness and celebration efforts.