My first 100 days as chancellor of Pima Community College have provided me a valuable opportunity to listen to many of you from this magnificent, diverse community. Thank you for welcoming me to Tucson, my new home.
I have met with more than 1,000 members of our community who have expressed both deep concern and anticipated hope that Pima can and will continue to help Southern Arizona residents achieve their education and professional goals. From both within and outside of Pima, I’ve heard countless times that the college is a vital lifeline for training our workforce and for propelling this region into one that is economically vibrant.
In April 2013, the Higher Learning Commission placed Pima on probation, primarily due to deficiencies in administration and governance.
The commission directed Pima to conduct a top-to-bottom review of its operations and provide evidence of compliance with the accreditation standards set.
Getting off probation is Pima’s number one priority. More than 300 staff, faculty, students and community members are working very hard to make the needed improvements. We must learn from the mistakes of other institutions, such as City College of San Francisco, which is facing closure due to loss of accreditation. I want to assure you — the taxpayers of Pima County — that we are resolving the shortcomings identified by the HLC.
Last week, Pima College took an important step to ensure compliance with HLC standards when we hired Zelema Harris to be our new interim executive vice chancellor for institutional effectiveness.
Harris has more than 30 years’ experience at community colleges, including three months at PCC as interim chancellor earlier this year. Harris has a deep understanding of the accreditation process.
In her short tenure as interim chancellor, she won the respect of the community and her colleagues at PCC for her forthright commitment. She will be an invaluable adviser, liaison and administrator as we emerge from probation.
Recently, problems at Pima’s Veterans’ Center and Nursing Program surfaced and made headlines. We are employing a new approach to investigate serious allegations that brings in an external investigator to obtain the most accurate, objective information possible.
Our strategy is to listen, conduct a fair investigation and, when necessary, respond quickly and decisively.
Let us not forget that day-to-day, Pima serves nearly 30,000 students. In May 2013, a school record of 3,726 graduates earned more than 5,000 credentials, helping Pima rank 21st among the more than 1,100 community colleges in the U.S. in the production of associate degrees.
Many of our students are of modest means and are able to attend because the college has succeeded in keeping education affordable. Our tuition of $65.50 per credit hour is the third-lowest of Arizona’s 10 community colleges.
Pima, like the vast majority of the U.S. community colleges, is proud of its open admissions policy. We are committed to taking each student from where he or she is to where he or she wants to go. We believe that if you invest in education, you invest in shared prosperity. We are committed to developmental and workforce education.
We are working to make it easier for our students to transfer to a four-year college or university. We are improving occupational programs, such as automotive technology, which will be supported by better equipment, tools, instructional space and a closer connection to the industry.
And we are very proud of Pima’s top-flight programs in adult basic education, family literacy and high school equivalency test preparation.
The heart of our institution is our students. Serving them is why we exist, and our faculty and staff are dedicated to helping them succeed.
One of our community partners expressed that Southern Arizona needs Pima not because it is too big to fail, but because it is too important to fail. With your support, Pima will succeed.