Tag Archives: accreditation

What a week!

Last week was phenomenal, and not only because on March 9 our accrediting organization lifted all sanctions from the College. On March 10 we held two events with the potential to shape PCC and community for years to come.

More than 100 business, education, government and community leaders joined PCC employees for Futures Conference 2017.  The theme of 2017’s conference is an echo of the first conference.  As in 2014, we are looking to define a handful of comprehensive priorities, or Wildly Important Goals (WIGs), to guide the College through 2020. [Another session of the conference will be held March 23. You also can offer your insights in an online survey.]

March 10 also was the inaugural Ethnic, Gender and Transborder Studies summit. More than 300 students, community members and employees gathered for a morning of scholarship and idea-sharing. The afternoon was spent discussing ways to create a Center of Excellence devoted to diversity, inclusion and social justice.

I am extremely proud of the event’s organizers, who have applied the Center of Excellence concept in a way that will make us a leader among community colleges. Moreover, the center has the capacity to give students a physical space devoted to data-based scholarship, alliance-building, and advocacy for the historically marginalized. Or, as one student eloquently put it, the center will be a place for “inspiring humans.”

The key point to remember is that while the College worked with our accreditor, we have been developing an array of forward-looking initiatives that go far beyond compliance. Meeting regulatory standards is of course an important foundational activity, but it’s only one of a range of efforts we are undertaking to achieve a greater end – becoming a premier community college.

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

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.

 

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.

Aviation Technology Center update

 

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

I am pleased to give you good news on the status of our Aviation Technology Center (ATC).

You will recall that when a college offers more than 50 percent of courses for a specific program at a location geographically separate from a main campus, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) must approve the site.  Further, colleges are prohibited by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) from disbursing federal financial aid for programs at sites that have not been HLC-approved.

We discovered that PCC had never obtained this approval for the ATC site, and self-disclosed this fact to the HLC and ED.  We immediately filed for approval with the HLC, and did not disburse financial aid to Aviation students for the summer semester.  Instead, the College and the PCC Foundation provided affected students with institutional and Foundation scholarships.

I want to emphasize that through this whole process the Aviation program itself has remained fully accredited and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the HLC.

On June 27, 2016, the HLC approved the ATC at Pima Community College as an additional location.  This means that the College is able to offer the various Aviation degrees and certificates at the ATC.  This approval also allowed the College to seek approval from ED to offer federal financial aid at this location.

We are awaiting final approval from ED, but based on our conversations with them, we are optimistic that this will occur before the fall financial aid disbursement date of September 9.  We also have learned that the Department is in the process of reviewing our Program Participation Agreement (PPA) and updating our Eligibility & Certification Approval Report (ECAR), which contains the ED list of Pima’s approved locations.  These are very positive signs.

On Thursday, August 4, 2016, Aviation leadership met with students, updated them on our progress, and discussed the College’s efforts to ensure that financial aid students remain unaffected.  The College is working to have contingency plans in place, should the ED approval be delayed past September 9.

I am encouraged by these developments, and I am proud of the staff and faculty who proactively identified this issue, and have been working to correct it.  Thanks to their efforts, this is one more example of the College’s progress toward becoming a premier institution of learning.

 

Accreditation update

 

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

I want to share a brief summary of information presented to the Governing Board by Bruce Moses, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Accreditation and Quality Improvement, at the Board’s Aug. 1 Study Session.

The topic, accreditation and the Sept. 26-27 Focus Visit by a team from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), is of obvious interest to the College community. Here are the major takeaways from the session.

Outcomes

As you know, the College is accredited by the HLC but is on Notice, which means we are at risk of being unable to meet one or more of HLC’s Criteria for Accreditation. We submitted a Notice Report to the HLC on June 29, 2016. A timeline of important upcoming HLC-related events is available on the pima.edu website. A critical event will be the HLC Board of Trustees’ meeting Feb. 26-27 to determine the College’s institutional status.

HLC rules prohibit it from keeping PCC on Notice, or placing us back on Probation. These are the possible outcomes:

  • We are removed from Notice.
  • We are removed from Notice, but must submit one or more reports detailing our progress in areas in which the HLC says we need to improve. The HLC may make additional Focus Visits to the College.
  • The HLC issues an order requiring us to show causeas to why our accredited status should not be removed.

Conclusion

One point Bruce astutely drove home is the need for the College to keep making progress throughout the Fall semester. A PCC team will travel to Chicago in December for a hearing of the HLC’s Institutional Actions Council, which makes recommendations to the HLC Board of Trustees. At the hearing, it will be important for the PCC team to provide evidence that the College has been improving processes throughout the semester.

We are up to the challenge to continue to improve. I don’t have to tell you that we have made significant strides. Our faculty, staff, administrators and Board are responsible for the many positive changes at PCC.  Thank you for meeting the challenges and taking advantage of the opportunities to improve service to our students and community.

 

Report to the Community

This month’s edition of PCC Spotlight, the College’s e-newsletter, contains my annual Report to the Community.
Some of the topics addressed in the Report:
  • Accreditation: We have submitted a Notice Report to the Higher Learning Commission, a key step in regaining the fullest measure of confidence from our accreditor.
  • Fiscal stewardship: I put into perspective PCC’s budget, property tax rates, and tuition for 2016-17.
  • Student success: We are making strides in improving and expanding pathways for students at the beginning of their education journey.