Tag Archives: benefits

Effectively serving our student-veterans

I am extremely pleased to report the College has received notice reinstating our ability to certify enrollment of new-to-PCC Veterans Benefits Recipients.

Over the past several weeks, the College has been reviewing approximately 3,100 files of student-veterans who attend PCC. The review was mandated after U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs auditors earlier this year found that, in a significant number of cases, PCC failed to accurately and promptly report to the VA information about changes in enrollment, applicability of credits to a student’s program of study, and out-of-state tuition and fees for Veterans Benefit Recipients.

After the state re-examined our updated files, the College passed with flying colors.

With receipt today of a formal confirmation letter from the Arizona Department of Veterans Services, PCC will be able to certify new students for the Summer and Fall semesters. As the department’s April R. Monthie put it, we are now “fully in compliance.”

This significant achievement could not have been possible without a focused, all-hands effort involving staff and administrators from our campuses and District Office. (In her letter, April called our staff “remarkable.”) The men and women named below put in long hours during the week and on weekends to get the job done. I am honored to call them my colleagues and the College owes them a tremendous debt of gratitude.

  • Anne Marie Aguilar, Student Services Specialist, District
  • Amanda Aldecoa, Student Services Specialist, District
  • Ana Maria Angulo, Advanced Student Services Specialist, West
  • Annette Armenta, Student Services Specialist, Desert Vista
  • Susana Armenta, Advanced Student Services Specialist, Desert Vista
  • Terra Benson, Executive Director Financial Aid, District
  • Paul Brown, Advanced Student Services Specialist, Community
  • Dee Burns, Student Services Specialist, Community
  • Cheryl Carpenter, Fiscal Analyst, District
  • Aurie Clifford, Fiscal Advanced Analyst, District
  • Dorcas Daly, Advanced Student Services Specialist, West
  • David Donderewicz, Advanced Student Services Specialist, Desert Vista
  • Adelita Duarte, Advanced Student Services Specialist, Downtown
  • Debra Felix, Advanced Student Services Specialist, East
  • Maria Foster, Student Services Specialist, District
  • Cynthia Gomez, Advanced Student Services Specialist, Desert Vista
  • Marilyn Harper, Advanced Student Services Specialist, Northwest
  • Tanya Hawks, Advanced Student Services Specialist, East
  • Nelva Nicole Hayes, Advanced Student Services Specialist, East
  • Keri Hill, Program Assistant, District
  • Vanessa Holmes, Advanced Student Services Specialist, Northwest
  • Katherine Jackson, Student Services Technician, District
  • Viviana Laguna, Support Coordinator, Community
  • Jennifer Madrid, Advanced Student Services Specialist, East
  • Desiree Maultsby, Advanced Student Services Specialist, East
  • Francisco Mendoza, Advanced Student Services Specialist, Desert Vista
  • Brian Miller, Advanced Program Manager, Northwest
  • Gary Parker, Student Services Coordinator, District
  • Patrice Peterson, Advanced Student Services Specialist, Northwest
  • Daniel Rodriguez, Student Services Specialist, District
  • Dorothy Roque, Student Services Technician, District
  • Guadalupe Serrano-Villela, Advanced Student Services Specialist, West
  • Natalie Shue, Advanced Student Services Specialist, West
  • Diana Silva-Nidez, Advanced Student Services Specialist, West
  • Lori Tidaback, Support Coordinator, Northwest
  • Michael Tulino, Vice President of Student Development, Northwest
  • Denise Turner, Advanced Student Services Specialist, East
  • Anna Vasquez, Advanced Student Services Specialist, Downtown
  • Luis Vega, Advanced Student Services Specialist, District
  • Frances Vidal, Advanced Student Services Specialist, Desert Vista
  • Rosa Whaley, Advanced Student Services Specialist, Desert Vista

Campus presidents, as well as campus and District Office administrators, also should be recognized for encouraging staff to participate, and for covering the campuses during business hours while members of their teams worked on this important project.

The College owes its student-veterans the best possible programs and services as they transition back to civilian life. Thanks to our dedicated employees, we have taken a big step toward achieving that worthy goal.

Serving those who served

Chancellor and Scott Plotts

Student-veterans deserve the best Pima Community College has to offer as they transition to civilian life. Many of them have put themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedoms. As PCC student-veteran Steven Jackson puts it, “Our military is what keeps this country safe and strong.”

The College is enriched by the experiences and perspectives that student-veterans and the approximately 1,600 Veterans Benefits Recipients bring to our campuses each semester. PCC and other higher education institutions are the perfect bridge for veterans as they move from structured military life to a civilian world that is full of choices. As chancellor, an Army veteran, and the son of an Army veteran, I have committed PCC to do right by these brave men and women. An improvement effort is underway, but we have a lot more work to do.

Earlier today, I had the privilege of attending the rededication of the expanded and improved Veterans Center at our Downtown Campus. The College worked with student-veterans to redesign the center, located off an attractive campus courtyard. The new center replaces a previous center that was deemed too small and not fully in keeping with the needs of our student-veterans.

At 1,500 square feet, the new center is more than four times larger than the previous center. It includes computers, rooms for study and reflection, and a kitchenette. Scott Plotts (pictured above), president of the PCC chapter of the Student Veterans Association who spoke at the rededication, termed the changes “vast improvements” and proclaimed, “We can proudly say that our needs have been met.”

More than a dozen student-veterans attended the event, along with PCC employees, Governing Board members and officials from the state and federal branches of government, including representatives of U.S. Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, and U.S. Representatives Ron Barber and Raúl Grijalva. Ruben Reyes of Rep. Grijalva’s office put it well: the center is “more than a brick and mortar symbol of commitment. It is a place to call home.”

The Veterans Center is an example of PCC at its best, as is our recent hiring of three Veterans Services Specialists, as well as assigning oversight of Veterans Education Benefits to an Assistant Registrar who is a former student and a retired chief master sergeant with 28 years of service in the Air Force. Also, we have provided in-depth training to Student Services staff so that they can serve as points of contact on the campus, and counsel students on benefit certification.  We are offering Veterans Benefit Recipient orientations and the Veterans Services Specialists will spend two days a week on campuses, serving and supporting our Veterans Benefit Recipients as they achieve their academic goals.

But serious problems exist in our veterans benefit processes. Earlier this week, the College received a letter from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs detailing findings made during a compliance survey conducted at PCC in January 2014. [You can read the letter on the Veterans Benefits page of our website.]

In summary, the compliance survey found that in a significant number of cases, PCC failed to accurately and promptly report to the VA information on changes in enrollment, applicability of credits to a student’s program of study, and out of state tuition and fees for veterans benefit recipients.

Additionally, according to the letter, similar discrepancies were found in 2013, and the College did not follow a plan from March 2013 designed to fix the problems. The College’s veterans department was in transition at the time. But the reality is we dropped the ball.

We will have a new plan for improvement ready very soon. All actions in the plan will be completed. The plan will ensure that we fully comply with all federal laws and regulations and state policies.

Fixing real problems and delivering tangible benefits doesn’t happen quickly, and institutional change is an ongoing process. However, by meeting problems head-on, PCC can fulfill its commitment to becoming a student-centered learning organization that delivers the best support to our student-veterans and Veteran Benefit Recipients.  Helping pay society’s debt to veterans is an endeavor that the College is honored to undertake.