Accreditor removes PCC from sanction

Here is a message I shared with the College community earlier today regarding our status with the Higher Learning Commission, an organization that accredits community colleges, colleges and universities:

Colleagues,

I have great news. The Higher Learning Commission’s Board of Trustees has removed the College from Notice.

The College was notified in an Action Letter dated today from HLC President Barbara Gellman-Danley. [The Action Letter and accompanying Public Disclosure notification are available on our website.]

“During its meeting on February 23, 2017, the Board removed the sanction of Notice from the College. This action is effective as of the date the action was taken,” President Gellman-Danley writes. “The Board determined that the removal of the sanction was warranted based on evidence provided by the College, including the Notice Report, the report of the visiting team, the staff analysis of the sanction, and the College’s responses to these reports.”

This is wonderful news for current and prospective students. While we remained fully accredited as we sought to comply with HLC standards, removal from Notice is a crystal-clear indication to students that their school is operating and will continue to operate at a high level. These students, who have invested their time and money in us, deserve nothing less.

It is also wonderful news for the community. Pima County residents can rest assured we are an institution that is worthy of their support and can continue to significantly contribute to our region’s economic development.

Regaining the full confidence of our accreditor required a Herculean effort that spanned nearly four years and involved hundreds of employees – regular and adjunct faculty; exempt, non-exempt and temporary staff; and administrators — along with Governing Board members, students and community stakeholders.

The creativity and perseverance of our colleagues and friends has been phenomenal. As you might imagine, there are many, many people to thank. I want to express special gratitude to the Provost’s Office, which was charged in early 2013 with leading our accreditation effort and time and again responded admirably to the challenge.

I need to point out that, as we celebrate today’s achievement, we are preparing for our next Comprehensive Evaluation, part of the routine Standard Pathway of the HLC’s accreditation process.  This process will include developing an Assurance Argument and Evidence file, previously known as a Self-Study, as well as hosting a Comprehensive Evaluation Visit. We have been asked by the HLC to embed an Interim Report into the Assurance Argument in order to update the HLC Board on the status of items related to planning, budgeting, Developmental Education and the assessment of student learning.

We welcome the HLC’s interest in our institution, and confidently look forward to meeting and exceeding their standards now and in the future. We welcome the passionate interest so many have in PCC. The work we do matters. I am always proud to be part of PCC, and today, I am especially proud to lead a school that helps our neighbors climb the economic ladder and realize their personal, diverse vision of the American Dream.

Lee D. Lambert,
Chancellor

The role of grants in higher education

As states experience fiscal challenges, higher education institutions across the U.S. are facing reductions in publicly funded support.  One of the ways to counter this loss of revenue is by winning grants from government and private entities. Pima Community College is actively competing for this source of funding.

Currently, we have 45 active grants, totaling more than $50 million. The grants range in size from $5,000 to $15 million. The grants serve 12,000 students and employ 200 staff and faculty. They provide student support services, curriculum development, professional development for faculty, classroom redesign and other services.

Our most recent grant award is a $3.1 million Hispanic-Serving Institutions Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (HSI-STEM) grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant will expand student support services and tutoring, and establish specific transfer pathways to Arizona’s four-year universities. The goal is to improve the academic and career success of Hispanic/low-income students by increasing the number of students who receive certificates or degrees from PCC in STEM-related majors, and-or who transfer to STEM fields at Arizona’s three four-year universities.

As Program Coordinator Lupe Waitherwerch told Tucson’s NPR radio affiliate, the goal of the grant is straightforward: “We want [students] to feel like they belong in college to begin with and … be able to believe that they can succeed.”

It’s important to put awards like these into context. First, PCC was in the running for the grant because we are viewed as a Hispanic-Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. More than 43 percent of our students are Hispanic, far exceeding the 25 percent threshold for an HSI designation from the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

The College’s HSI designation benefits not only Hispanic-Latino students, however. Low-income students of every ethnicity are eligible to take advantage of the grant’s resources. As individuals, the students who achieve academic and career success through the program will become Pima County’s taxpayers, homebuyers and entrepreneurs of the future. Additionally, they will enhance southern Arizona’s reputation for producing employees capable of powering cutting-edge 21st-century industries. Everyone will benefit.

It’s also important to recognize the limitations of grants. While grants greatly enhance education of our students, they are not part of the operating budget; our fiscal hurdles remain. Additionally, grants pay for programs for a specific time. The HSI-STEM grant has a five-year life. It is a challenge for colleges and universities to find ways to institutionalize a promising initiative after the money runs out.

So PCC, like most of its counterparts in higher education, will continue to pursue grant opportunities that benefit our students and communities in order to ameliorate the impact of budget reductions. In that respect, we are walking the path well-trod by businesses everywhere. We’re adjusting and diversifying our revenue streams.

Report validates our progress on accreditation

I am pleased to report that we have received the Draft Feedback Report from the Higher Learning Commission’s Peer Review Team, who recommended removing the College from sanctions in 10 of the 11 areas of concern.  And while they determined that one area required the College to remain “On Notice” for an additional six months, our work earned praise and recognition.

In fact, the Report validates every effort we have made to strengthen Pima’s commitment to students and the community.

As you know, while remaining fully accredited, the College was “On Notice” as we addressed 11 areas of focus where the HLC, the College’s accrediting body, thought we could easily slip out of compliance with accrediting standards.

Following review of considerable documentation and an intensive September Focused Visit, the Peer Reviewers, who are college leaders from across the country, concurred that PCC made significant progress and fully addressed the concerns of the Commission in five areas of focus.  That is outstanding news.  It allows us to move forward with no need for monitoring.

In five other areas, Reviewers complimented the College on its work and acknowledged the strong foundation built in each area, but believed we needed additional time to provide evidence of effectiveness. As we expected, those areas were recommended for additional monitoring, but there was no recommendation of a sanction, and of those, only one required HLC follow up. Again, more good news.

In only one area, regarding assessment of student learning outcomes, the Peer Reviewers thought the “evidence of effectiveness was insufficient” enough for the college to remain “On Notice” for an additional six months, until Sept. 1, 2017.

Specifically, Reviewers want to see the College complete hiring of two critical assessment positions, a Director of Assessment reporting to the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Accreditation and Academic Quality Improvement, and a Research Analyst reporting to the Director of Assessment. The extra time gives the College the opportunity to complete the hires and to allow these individuals to develop goals, strategies and tactics. We are firmly on track; an offer has been made to a candidate for the Director’s position and interviews for the Research Analyst position occur this week.

Reviewers were particularly attentive to assessment of student learning outcomes, in part because it viewed the College’s efforts as overdue, and in part because our model is still new and will require continued oversight and direction by someone who has a direct line of accountability for its success.

Even so, Peer Reviewers said the “new structure has enhanced visibility, consistency and stronger leadership of the PCC assessment efforts.”

Next steps

The College was given the opportunity to review the Draft Feedback Report for errors. After reviewing the College’s comments, the HLC will finalize and issue the Feedback Report.  We expect this to happen in the next few weeks.  The Final Feedback Report and supporting evidence will be reviewed by the HLC Board of Trustees in February 2017 for a final decision. The status becomes official with the HLC Board vote.

By Sept. 1, 2017, we will submit a report on the status of hiring the two assessment positions. The report also will include updates about the monitored areas. Review of the College’s report will determine if a site visit is required for Fall 2017.

While the College had hoped to come fully off sanction, we are heartened and encouraged by the significant progress to date.

The Reviewers’ compliments were abundant and included statements such as “the institution’s governance and administrative structures promote effective leadership and support collaborative processes that enable the institution to fulfill its mission. … The team found during its visit that it appeared the College had improved the climate of openness and inclusivity of individual perspectives.”

And “it is clear that PCC has embraced a new culture that includes a focus on Developmental Education and on Adult Education, including KPIs related to the development of both within the Strategic Plan. The Dean of Developmental Education is progressively leading an enthusiastic group of faculty, advisors and staff who are focused on student success.”

We are grateful for the Reviewers’ thoughtful evaluation and for recognizing the hard work behind all of the achievements in these past several months. We still have much hard work ahead, but now our path is clear and we can be confident in our actions.

 

Realizing the American Dream

With new citizens Viri and Simin

With new citizens Viriviana and Simin (right)

Earlier this week, I joined with business, education and government partners at an important announcement by Mayor Jonathan Rothschild: Tucson would join more than two dozen major U.S. cities in the Cities for Citizenship initiative.

The mayor explained that people who want to become U.S. citizens can face educational and financial hurdles, and that Cities for Citizenship would support those who want to take on the rights and responsibilities that citizenship entails.

The announcement was made at the College’s El Pueblo Liberty Learning Center. It was an appropriate venue, as PCC has for years been a provider of effective citizenship education.

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After the announcement, Xail Hernandez, a PCC instructor in English Language Acquisition for Adults who also works with our AmeriCorps program, shared information.

Our citizenship classes are part of our Adult Basic Education for College & Career division. All of our classes, including citizenship classes, are free and open to everyone. This year 366 students received more than 3,300 hours on Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship instruction at classes taught at the El Pueblo Liberty Learning Center, El Rio Learning Center, and the 29th Street Coalition Center, as well as several area libraries.

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Simin and Linda, a volunteer citizenship instructor

Citizenship instructors are trained volunteers who get ongoing support and professional development.  We have some who have volunteered with us for over 15 years.

About 60 of our students have become citizens this year, and two were acknowledged during the announcement of the initiative.

This topic is personal for me. My mother came to the U.S. from South Korea in the 1960s, seeking her vision of the American Dream. My family’s story is, at its essence, similar to hundreds of millions of stories in our great country. As one speaker put it, virtually all of us are descended from immigrants.

PCC is eager to help provide the education component to the Cities for Citizenship initiative. We are proud to join with the Mayor’s Office, Chicanos Por La Causa, Citi, Vantage West Credit Union, Pima County Library and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to empower new citizens who contribute to the ongoing prosperity and sustainability of our nation.

Rebuilding our binational ties and strategic relationship with Mexico

Between October 24 and 26, I traveled to Mexico City and the City of León, in central Mexico, as part of a delegation with the City of Tucson, Chicanos Por La Causa, Visit Tucson, the Mexican Consulate in Tucson, and Start Up Tucson. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the highlight of our mission was a meeting with the former President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, who hosted us in his Foundation, Centro Fox.

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Additionally, we had other high-level meetings with government officials that I would like to underscore.

The first day of our mission, we met with the Undersecretary for Higher Education of the Ministry of Education (SEP), Dr. Salvador Jara, and with the national CEO for public polytechnic universities, Héctor Arreola (also under SEP). The two men have supported Pima’s partnerships with Mexican educational institutions and have funded several groups of students who have come to PCC to study short term programs. The Ministry of Education has developed a new technical higher education model that emphasizes bilingualism, internationalization and sustainability, making PCC a partner in the United States. Mexico is now one of the world’s top countries for graduates in engineering, manufacturing and construction (more than Canada, Germany, or France), while total university enrollment has tripled in 30 years to almost three million students. Dr. Jara and Mr. Arreola were awarded the United States-Mexico Friendship Commendation, a recognition from the City of Tucson and Pima Community College, for advancing our binational links. We discussed the possibility of developing study abroad programs for PCC students who are interested in learning or improving their Spanish, Faculty-led programs, and dual degrees. See Undersecretary Jara’s Tweet

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From left to right: Emilio Gaynor, Director of International Development, Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC); David Adame President & CEO of CPLC; Ricardo Castro-Salazar; PCC’s VP for International Development; Salvador Jara, Undersecretary for Higher Education of Mexico; Jonathan Rothschild, Mayor of Tucson; Lee Lambert, PCC Chancellor; and Héctor Arreola, National CEO for Public Polytechnic Universities of Mexico.

 

Mayor Rothschild, Consul Pineda, and I also had a private meeting with Paulo Carreño, the Undersecretary for North America of the Ministry of Foreign Relations, who emphasized the strategic relationship that Mexico and the United States have in the global arena. The Ministry, through its Institute for Mexicans Abroad (IME), has awarded PCC scholarship grants for $116,000.00, which have helped many of our students with financial need. Furthermore, with the support of Consul Pineda, PCC has obtained scholarship funds from the private organization Juntos Podemos in the amount of $64,000.00. Ricardo Castro-Salazar, PCC’s Vice President for International Development, has been External Advisor to the Mexican Government through IME and has worked closely with the Mexican Consul to win these grants. This has given Pima a prominent position among US community colleges and a unique relationship with Mexican institutions. We expect to win additional grants in the coming months.

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The same morning, we had the opportunity to have a conversation with Dr. Martha Navarro, CEO of the Mexican Agency for International Cooperation and Development. She is also the head of Proyecta 100,000, the Mexican counterpart of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Initiative by Presidents Obama and Peña. Proyecta has funded thousands of scholarships for Mexican students to attend US educational institutions, including several groups of students who have attended Pima College. Dr. Navarro reiterated the Mexican government’s approach to US-Mexico collaboration, as complementary partners in the global arena, where Mexico could become the sixth largest economy in the world by the year 2050. She also received a formal recognition from Mayor Rothschild and myself for advancing educational diplomacy and binational friendship.

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Our fourth and final recognition was given to a great friend of Pima College, Ms. Maggie Suárez, who has been instrumental for our participation in the prestigious SEP-Bécalos-Santander international program. PCC is one of only five community colleges in the US participating in the program, through which we have hosted 177 international students since fall 2014. The program is possible through a partnership between the Mexican Ministry of Education, Televisa Foundation, and Santander Bank. Televisa is the largest telecommunications conglomerate in the Spanish-speaking world and Ms. Suárez is the head of educational programs for its foundation. Ms. Suárez let me know that Televisa Foundation was working on the creation of new international educational programs and she wants PCC to be part of them. This fall, PCC was selected to host 70 scholarship holders from 13 different universities in Mexico. Although one student could not make it, this is the largest cohort we have hosted, confirming our strengthening partnership.

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University of Guanajuato, Mexico

In the evening, we took a plane to the City of León, a rapidly developing city with an extensive automotive cluster in the State of Guanajuato, where President Fox’s Foundation is located. On Tuesday, we would visit Centro Fox, learn about the region’s opportunities, and meet with President Fox. Dr. Ian Roark, PCC’s Vice President for Workforce Development, is working in collaboration with Martha Beltran, CEO of the Academic and Research Center at Centro Fox, exploring potential partnerships with PCC.

 

On Wednesday 26th, we met with Ricardo Mújica, the CEO of the Slim Foundation. Carlos Slim, considered the richest man in the world, has funded numerous cultural and educational projects throughout Mexico. His Foundation’s philosophy is based on Mr. Slim’s premise that philanthropic organizations do not solve poverty and other world challenges, but knowledge does. Thus, it focuses on educational and healthcare initiatives. Fundación Slim is a 30-year old institution with an endowment of $5.5 billion. We learned about the Foundation’s free online educational platform: Aprende.org, aimed at expanding opportunities to anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection.

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Left, Chancellor Lambert and VP Roark at Plaza Carso, in Mexico City, where Slim Foundation is located.

Our last meeting was with Ms. Rebecca Thompson, Cultural Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Mexico, as well as Nathalie Scharf and Martha Sánchez from the US Commercial Service. In the past two years, PCC has developed a strong relationship with the Department of State and the US Embassy in Mexico. The Embassy has supported PCC’s programs with Mexico by subsidizing visas for scholarship holders and providing resources toward the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Initiative. Ms. Thompson was enthusiastic about our meeting and has connected PCC with new institutions who want to work with US colleges.

At the end of this intense work agenda, I was pleased to learn that our relationship with Mexico is now acknowledged by numerous institutions and organizations in this vast nation, which is Arizona’s number one commercial partner and one of Tucson’s main sources of tourism and foreign spending. PCC is now recognized in many regions across this country and I was proud to hear this not just from one, but from three different sources at our meetings with the Mexican Ministry of Education, the Slim Foundation, and US Embassy in Mexico. Thanks to this recognition, we have received grants from the US Department of State, the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Relations, and a private international donor. As expressed by Ms. Thompson, from the US Embassy, “Pima is one of our star colleges in Mexico.”

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Representatives from the US Embassy and the US Commercial Service in Mexico.

Engaging our constituents

Recently, I had the opportunity to take part in two events that illustrate the breadth of the College’s impact on our community.

On Oct. 27, I attended our annual luncheon for the area’s K-12 district school superintendents. I shared our progress on accreditation, and spoke about advancing the development of Centers of Excellence around occupational professions at PCC. College personnel shared information about dual enrollment, Developmental Education, and Admissions & Recruitment. I want to commend the Provost’s Office for holding an informative event.

On Nov. 1 at our Downtown Campus, I took part in an informational event coinciding with the start of the Affordable Care Act’s 2016-2017 Open Enrollment period. I emphasized that as an institution of higher learning, PCC has a responsibility to make sure our students have access to the information they need to make informed decisions about their lives, including their health coverage.

Also taking part were Downtown Campus President Dr. David Doré, as well as Cynthia Estrada of the Pima County Enrollment Coalition and Melissa Stafford Jones, Regional Director for the Department of Health and Human Services. Thanks to all for helping the College connect with students and the community about a topic of high interest.