National Legislative Summit

Alec Moreno and Yaritza Vasquez with Rep. Raul Grijalva

Alec Moreno and Yaritza Vasquez with Rep. Raul Grijalva

Last week, I attended the 2015 Community College National Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C. and joined 1,000 other community college trustees, presidents, and other leaders to advocate for increased funding and resources to support community colleges. The summit was convened by the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) with support from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

Top priorities for AACC and ACCT for 2015 include federal funding for community colleges and students, funding for the Pell Grant Program, Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization, Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act reauthorization, veteran students, the DREAM Act, higher education tax provisions, and extension of the TAACCCT Program, along with promotion of President Obama’s America’s College Promise proposal.

PCC Governing Board Members Scott Stewart and Mark Hanna attended the summit and meetings on Capitol Hill, along with Michael Peel, Government Relations Liaison; Amanda Kaminski, Advanced Program Coordinator, Grants Resource Office; and two exceptional student leaders, Alec Moreno and Yaritza Vasquez. We met with Senator Jeff Flake and Representatives Raúl Grijalva, Martha McSally, and Ann Kirkpatrick. We also met with the staff of Senator John McCain’s Office. We emphasized continued support for the Pell Grant Program, adult education, and workforce development programs such as TRIO for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. Grant agency meetings were also held with the U.S. Department of Education.

Alec Moreno and Yaritza Vasquez with Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick

Alec Moreno and Yaritza Vasquez with Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick

In addition to the meetings on Capitol Hill, the summit included many group meetings and sessions focused on the economic and workforce development role of community colleges. Sessions included distinguished speakers including: Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden; and Thomas E. Perez, Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor.

Secretary of Labor Perez highlighted Pima Community College and his recent visit to our Aviation Technology Center in January during his speech for the closing of the summit as an example of successful efforts to address unemployment and economic development.

I presented the 2015 Government Relations Award to Rachel Gragg, former federal policy director of the National Skills Coalition. Senator Al Franken was presented with 2015 National Education Service Awards for his ongoing support of community colleges.

In addition, we were honored to be invited as guests of Congresswoman Kirkpatrick to attend the dedication of a statue of the late Senator Barry Goldwater unveiled in Statuary Hall. House Speaker John Boehner, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator McCain, Representative Grijalva, members of the Goldwater family, and many other congressional leaders were in attendance for the dedication ceremony.

I want to thank Michael Peel for his great work in organizing and facilitating our congressional visits. I also want to thank Alec Moreno and Yaritza Vasquez for the leadership they displayed with our legislators as they recounted the positive impact of PCC on their lives during this critical time for funding for community colleges at the federal and state levels.

Alec is studying Mechanical Engineering. His is a member of the PCC Governance Council, Native American Student Association (NASA), Asian Pacific American Student Association (APASA), Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), and STEM-related clubs such as Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). He plans to study Engineering at UA.

Yaritza is studying Nursing. She is an Upward Bound student from Desert View High School and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. She is currently a TRIO student, an Upward Bound tutor, Amigos de Pima scholarship recipient, and a PCC Merit Scholar. Her GPA is 4.0 and she is pursuing a Nursing Degree through the PCC/NAU-BSN program.

Pima Community College is incredibly fortunate to have such strong student leadership to represent the College in the best possible ways.

For more information about the 2015 Community College National Legislative Summit, go to www.acct.org.

Alec Moreno and Yaritza Vasquez with Rep. Martha McSally

Alec Moreno and Yaritza Vasquez with Rep. Martha McSally

Building Community 2015

From left: Edmund Marquez, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Chancellor Lee D. Lambert, Building Community emcee Dan Marries.

From left: PCC Foundation Board of Directors Member Edmund Marquez, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Chancellor Lee D. Lambert, Building Community emcee Dan Marries.

I had the privilege of delivering keynote remarks at the Pima Community College Foundation’s Building Community luncheon Feb. 6 at the Westin La Paloma resort. The more than 400 leaders of education, business and industry, government and community organizations who attended learned more about how PCC works with its partners to improve individual lives and spark economic development in the region.

This was the second Building Community luncheon, and in one major respect, much has changed since last year’s inaugural event. I told the audience that, thanks to the efforts of some 300 employees, students and community members, PCC is now well-positioned to successfully emerge from probation, a sanction placed on the College by our accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, in April 2013. Final word on our status comes later this month, and I have every reason to believe that the College has done the work to successfully comply with HLC standards and regain its fullest degree of confidence.

I explained to the audience the initiatives the College is undertaking to bridge that gaps that pose major challenges to the success of higher education institutions across the U.S.: gaps in student achievement, skills, technology, sustainability and global awareness. However, the  powerful collaborations that yield tangible successes for our students formed the most memorable part of the event. I want to relate just a few stories.

Dean West, 27, grew up in Longview, Wash., a small town where the paper mill was the major employer. After getting his GED, he immediately joined the Army, and worked in weapons maintenance. Dean moved to Tucson to be with family. An acquaintance told him about PCC. He is graduating with a degree in Computer Aided Drafting Design. While at PCC, he connected with his current employer, a manufacturer. “I was blessed to have instructors who have high standards and a highly structured environment,” he says, adding that his military experience set him up for academic success at Pima. “I have my dream job,” he says, and he plans to attend UA on the G.I. Bill.

Alec Moreno is a Tucson High School graduate. He has four siblings, and his family is of modest means. He was worried about finding the money for college after the Great Recession took a severe toll on the family’s finances. But PCC Foundation scholarships (about $1,400 he says) have made a big difference. “Pima’s tuition is very affordable, but coming from a large family, every dollar counts.” He plans to study engineering at UA, and hopes to get a master’s in education to give back to the community. When he graduates UA, he will be first member of his family to get a bachelor’s degree. He will tell his story while in Washington, D.C., this week to meet federal legislators and officials.

Ashley Rodriguez is a Sunnyside High School graduate who joined the military. Following her service she attended other colleges and still had a hard time finding a career. Then one day by chance she saw a piece of paper on the floor. She picked it up and learned about Pima’s Aviation Technology program. The road through the rigorous program had its twists and turns, but now she is working for Bombardier.

Similar stories were told by Gloria Bloomer, chair of the PCC Foundation Board of Directors. A video segment produced by PCCTV showed the close relationship between the College and employers Suddath Relocation Systems and Radiology Ltd. Gloria introduced David Lee, who graduated from our Radiologic Technology program and works for Radiology Ltd. Mayor Jonathan Rothschild put our contributions into perspective when he described how PCC plays a key role his “Five T’s” program of development by preparing Tucsonans for the middle class jobs that will provide the backbone of our community.

Renowned educator Marian Wright Edelman said, “Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.” Working together with our partners in Tucson, Arizona and across the nation, we can achieve that goal, and propel Tucson to new era of economic development.

Secretary of Labor visits PCC, Tucson

Perez 1 cropped

Pima Community College was honored to host a visit Jan. 29 by Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. Secretary Perez joined me, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Tucson Unified School District Superintendent H.T. Sanchez, PCC Board Chair Sylvia Lee and other PCC leaders on a tour of our Aviation Technology Center (ATC). Secretary Perez also attended an event at our Downtown Campus regarding health insurance options under the Affordable Care Act.

During the visit to the ATC, Secretary Perez learned about initiatives PCC is undertaking through Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT), which is administered by the Labor Department. In September 2014, PCC received a $2,499,997 grant under the fourth round of TAACCCT, which enables community colleges to work with industry to develop training and education programs that will lead to high skill-high paying jobs. As part of the grant, PCC is partnering with business to develop a degree pathway in Industrial Technology that includes four short-term certificates. PCC also is adding short-term options to existing degree programs in Welding and Aviation.

At ATC, Secretary Perez attended a roundtable discussion with a cross-section of government, education, industry and workforce leaders. The takeaway from the meeting was clear: Community stakeholders need to coordinate their efforts to advance Career and Technical Education (CTE) as a ticket to the middle class, and that investments such as those made through TAACCCT make a difference. Mayor Rothschild noted that women, minorities and military veterans are among the populations that could make great use of this valuable education.

Superintendent Sanchez emphasized that the focus in education has been weighted toward making students college-ready over making them career-ready. The value of CTE is borne out by data. As the Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce has discovered,

43 percent of young workers with licenses and certificates earn more than those with an associate degree, 27 percent of young workers with licenses and certificates earn more than those with a bachelor’s degree, and 31 percent of young workers with associate degrees earn more than those with a bachelor’s degree.

I pointed out the need for a state and federal governmental framework that offers flexibility in student aid and allows educators to offer industry-driven programs that keep up with oft-dizzying pace of technological change.

Secretary Perez and the group did hear from a veteran, Ashley Rodriguez, who served as a Marine in Iraq before graduating from the Aviation Technology program and getting a job with Bombardier in Tucson. Rodriguez forthrightly described the roadblocks she had to overcome to go from the military to PCC and her new career. Secretary Perez summed up what we at PCC know about Ashley – “You’ve got game,” the secretary said – and said he would seek to find ways to straighten the pathway to civilian training that veterans must often travel.

Many employees made Secretary Perez’s visit to the ATC a success. Tom Hinman, Advanced Program Manager at the ATC, led an informative tour that included stops at the center’s two 727s. [PCC is one of the few U.S. programs with hands-on training on commercial and regional jets.] Tom’s team did a first-rate job with the logistics of a multifaceted event. Joanne Kingman, Program Manager in Workforce and Business Development, clearly explained the grant, sharing our best practices and highlighting our partnerships with industry.

Dr. Morgan Phillips, who as president of the Desert Vista Campus is responsible for the ATC, moderated the invigorating discussion. Government Relations Liaison Michael Peel reached out and brought together the community leaders for the valuable sit-down.

Secretary Perez has said that community colleges are the “secret sauce” of workforce development. I believe his visit confirmed that PCC’s wise use of the federal government’s investment in Career and Technical Education is improving the lives of individuals and contributing to economic development, and that the recipe for continued success demands that all stakeholders in the community continue to work together.

A chance to graduate ready for the new economy

Anyone who works or studies at a community college had to stand a little taller after listening to President Obama’s State of the Union address last night. The president made clear the important role that community colleges can and should play in the lives of those seeking a foothold in the middle class.

He related the story of a young couple, battered by the recession, who got back on their feet through hard work, sacrifice and the wife starting on a new career after retraining at a community college. The president also restated his proposal to lower the cost of community college to zero because “in a 21st century economy that rewards knowledge like never before, we need to do more” to educate America’s workforce.

Like my fellow community college leaders, I am awaiting the release on Feb. 2 of the president’s budget, when the details of the proposal will be revealed. But the realities underpinning his proposal are clear today. Forty percent of U.S. undergraduates attend a community college.

By the end of the decade, it’s estimated that two of three jobs will require some postsecondary education. And while community colleges such as PCC are a very affordable educational option, for many the cost of attending college is substantial.

One of the best aspects of the plan is that it rewards achievement. Students would qualify as long as they maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average. Another commendable part of the proposal is that students of all ages will benefit, not only recent high school graduates. This is especially relevant for PCC, where the average age of our students is 27.

Clearly, debate over the proposal is going to be spirited and likely will spark many competing approaches aimed at having more students attend and complete some form of postsecondary education and training. However, the mere fact that we will have a robust conversation is a significant step forward. I stand with all those who serve at community colleges to assure decision-makers that the investment in our students, and our nation’s future economic vitality, is well worth it.

To read a letter sent to the members of Congress by American Association of Community Colleges’ President/CEO Dr. Walter Bumphus and other higher education leaders: Community Colleges Leaders to Congress 1 21 15

A big start to the new year

The past few days have been busy and productive as the College made progress in two important areas: state government engagement, and accreditation.

On Monday, I attended the opening session of the Arizona Legislature in Phoenix. Sen. David Bradley, District 10, invited a PCC team to the session, where we met briefly with Sen. Steve Farley, District 9. Sen. Bradley’s other guests included Daniel Ranieri, President/CEO for La Frontera Arizona, and H.T. Sanchez, Superintendent of TUSD. We discussed the importance of continued funding for education on all levels, including community colleges and universities, and our interest in Gov. Ducey’s proposed budget. I also met Senate President Andy Biggs and Rep.Vince Leach, District 11, Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

On Tuesday, I led a PCC team at a hearing of the Higher Learning Commission’s Institutional Actions Council Hearing Committee in Chicago. The hearing was held to review the report of the HLC evaluation team that visited PCC in September. As I have written, the College last month received the good news that the team recommended we be taken off probation.

I believe the hearing went extremely well and the atmosphere was positive. I asked that the Hearing Committee accepts the recommendation of the site evaluation team.

The hearing was significant because it was the last chance for us to describe, person to person, to the HLC the many improvements that are taking place at PCC and make our case to be removed from probation. The Hearing Committee asked a variety of questions covering a number of areas, such as integrated planning and budgeting, program review, board governance, leadership transition, and diversity.

The meeting reinforced my belief that the HLC Board of Trustees’ final decision, due in late February or early March, will be a positive one for the College.

To top off the last few days, before Wednesday’s PCC Governing Board meeting a new member of the Board, Mark Hanna, was sworn to begin his six-year term. Mark, a former chair of the PCC Alumni Association and a former member of the PCC Foundation, replaces Dr. Brenda Even, who chose not to run for re-election after ably serving on the Board since 2001.

Clearly, a lot of good things are happening at PCC as we learn, change and improve in order to better serve students and the community.

The president’s bold proposal

I’m excited by President Obama’s proposal last week to make the first two years of a community college education free for in-state students.

Many Pima Community College students are of modest means, as are their fellow students across the U.S. President Obama’s proposal boldly addresses the issue of college affordability for our students and recognizes the critical importance of community colleges to growing our 21st century economy.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called education the ultimate bipartisan issue. The president’s proposal will put that proposition to the test. However, given that training and education are going to be essential for our nation to advance on the path to success, any effort to help put people on that path should be taken seriously.

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.