Tag Archives: probation

PCC has been removed from probation

Here is a sentence I have been waiting to write since I became Chancellor of this great institution on July 1, 2013: The Higher Learning Commission, an organization that accredits universities and colleges, has removed PCC from probation.

The HLC has placed the College on the status of Notice, in recognition of the progress we have made and the work we still must do to gain our accreditor’s fullest degree of confidence. I want to assure the public that we already have begun work on areas identified by the HLC. We are putting into place processes that will produce results to meet the standards of the HLC.

PCC will submit a Notice Report to the HLC by July 1, 2016. The HLC will conduct a Focused Evaluation Visit no later than September 2016, and in February 2017 the HLC Board will review our Notice Report.

I am confident that the College will continue its hard work as part of a cycle of continuous improvement at PCC. I also am grateful for the dozens of community members who communicated with the HLC over the past months. They helped demonstrate that we have a crucial role to play in making the American Dream come true for our neighbors throughout Southern Arizona. In fact, we have been heartened by the outpouring of support for PCC from students and all corners of the community recently.

PCC will continue to improve as we focus on student success, community engagement and diversity. Working together, we can build a premier community college.

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.

HLC update/appreciation


At the end of the Higher Learning Commission’s site visit to PCC last month, team chair Dr. Luis G. Pedraja noted the “Herculean effort” put forth by the College in conducting our Institutional Self-Study. So it was appropriate that Provost Dr. Erica Holmes (above) and I thank the people who did the Self-Study’s heavy lifting – the 300 College employees and community members who served on our Self-Study committees, and in many cases are still working to improve the College.

Several dozen people gathered last week at our 29th Street Coalition Center to hear Dr. Holmes and I share information about the site visit, describe PCC’s ongoing efforts to instill a culture of continuous improvement, and talk about next steps in the process. Most of all, we wanted to express our gratitude to those folks who put in long hours and made considerable personal sacrifices to make the Self-Study such a powerful instrument for improving the College.

PCC has made great progress installing new processes and structures to address the concerns of the HLC. However, as the Self Study process has been compressed into an 18-month time frame (the typical Self Study takes two to three years), it’s difficult for us to demonstrate that our changes are bearing fruit.

So our work to improve PCC continues even after submission of the Self Study Report and the visit of the HLC evaluation team. As Dr. Holmes noted, we have formed nine Fast Action Teams addressing a variety of topics. The teams are working quickly but deliberately to strengthen our compliance with HLC standards.

PCC soon will receive the report with the evaluation team’s findings. In November, PCC will submit corrections to any errors of fact such as erroneous timelines or data. We also will submit an institutional response report describing our ongoing reaccreditation efforts.

On December 9, I and four other PCC leaders will be in Chicago to take part in a final round of discussions during a hearing of the HLC’s Institutional Actions Council. Dr. Pedraja also will attend the meeting.

On December 11, Governing Board Chair David Longoria and I will lead an information session for the College community and the public regarding our impressions of the meeting with the HLC.

By the end of February the HLC Board will make its determination, and we should be notified of our status in early March.

As I have said in the past, I told the audience at our 29th Street Center that I am optimistic we will be taken off probation. Also, I said we likely will be under close monitoring by the HLC for remainder of the decade. And I said that is a good thing. Of course, PCC must meet HLC standards. But we need to aim higher – our goal should be to be one of the best community colleges in the nation. As long as we keep our focus on meeting the needs and expectations of our diverse students and community, we can succeed in a truly Herculean goal – becoming a premier community college.

A new day at PCC

The College reached an important milestone earlier this week.

The Self-Study Report we submitted to the Higher Learning Commission marks a significant turning point in the history of Pima Community College. It marks the beginning of a new day.

As noted in our news release, the report documents a comprehensive examination of College operations and highlights a number of improvements that have been made since we were placed on probation by the HLC in April 2013. The submission of the report generated a number of news stories, but I urge you to read it for yourself. It is an impressive piece of work.

Yet our work – the all-important task of regaining the trust of the HLC and the community we serve – is far from over. In mid-September, a team from the HLC will pay us a visit to determine if the College is complying with HLC standards. Once the team’s report is completed, we will send a team to HLC headquarters in Chicago to make our case one last time before their Institutional Actions Council.

The culmination of all efforts comes in early 2015, when Pima will receive formal notification of our accreditation status from the HLC.

Still, the submission of the Self-Study Report shows that we are well on our way to fixing what needs to be fixed and rebuilding Pima into one of our nation’s premier community colleges. And one of the truly amazing aspects of the Self Study is how it came together. Faced with the sobering sanction of probation, the College responded in a way that should make us all proud. We are a team and the Self-Study Report is an example of what can be accomplished when we confront our challenges like a team.

Each member of our team played a critical role in helping us achieve this milestone and the debt of gratitude we owe them bears repeating:

To all the members of our faculty, staff, administration and Governing Board involved in the preparation of the report, thank you. The long hours and hard work you contributed is greatly appreciated.

To all the members of the community who not only worked with us but who raised valid and sometimes difficult questions along the way, thank you. Your input and perspective were a critical part of the process.

And to all our students, whether you were directly involved in the Self Study or not, thank you for reminding all of us why we’re here. By keeping you at the center of everything we do at Pima, I have no doubt that we can take this institution to whole new level.

Pima’s transformation won’t happen quickly or easily, but the Self-Study Report we submitted to our accreditor is proof that it is happening.

Strategic planning: The 2014 Futures Conference

I often compare Pima Community College to an airplane that is being built while it is flying. Nowhere is that metaphor more apt than in our planning processes. PCC must constantly monitor its current operations and make adjustments quickly and decisively, while continually checking for storms and breaks in the clouds far out on the horizon.

In my first six months as Chancellor, the College has done an excellent job mapping out a response to the major challenge directly in its path, probation. From April 16, when our accrediting organization, the Higher Learning Commission, issued the sanction, the College’s response has been vigorous and comprehensive. The work of Provost’s Office, charged by then-Interim Chancellor Dr. Zelema Harris to take the lead in restoring the confidence of the HLC and the public, speaks for itself:

  • Successful submission to the HLC of a Monitoring Report on complaints and grievances, and faculty oversight of curriculum.
  • Creation of committees composed of some 300 people, including faculty, students, staff and community members, to conduct an Institutional Self-Study, a top-to-bottom review of policies and operations.
  • An evidence-based examination of 125 areas, which revealed PCC meets HLC criteria at either a high or acceptable level in 106 areas (about 85 percent).
  • Quickly pulling together teams to bring the College into compliance no later than May 1, 2014 in the 19 areas where we do not currently meet criteria.

Thanks to the College’s focused, sophisticated plan, I’m confident we will successfully emerge from probation in early 2015. But as that work continues we must simultaneously set our sights on achieving other goals on more distant horizons that are three, four, five years out. In addition to making probation-related improvements, we need to identify external issues and opportunities. It should be noted that the HLC identified the College’s lack of systematic, integrated planning as a concern. But the reality is that the College, like any large, dynamic organization, should make strategic planning a top priority; in the 21st century, as globalization and advances in technology accelerate change in higher education, the need to think about the future becomes a necessity, as does creating a plan that, if properly implemented, can yield measurable benefits to the community as well as to our students.

Our process will begin with information gathering. In the coming weeks, the College will gather reliable, sophisticated data on the economic, political and sociocultural landscape at the local, regional and national level. The information will augment an Environmental Scan update conducted by the College’s Planning and Institutional Research office in the summer of 2013. The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s2013 report on our city’s Hispanic residents is an example of good data. The report’s findings regarding education, such as the fact that nearly 152,000 Hispanic students attend K-12 schools in Pima County, will help provide context for future planning, as will a presentation later this month by the Arizona Commerce Authority on workforce development.

The process also will include examining the strategic plans of a wide range of organizations, from the American Association of Community Colleges to the voter-approved Plan Tucson to The University of Arizona’s Never Settle. We will look for areas of mutual interest and opportunities to maximize our impact. I’m acutely aware that aligning the College with like-minded entities is crucial to effect meaningful change for students and the community – we can’t go it alone.

In a similar vein, I will ask our presidents to solicit input from their campuses, so that the best ideas can bubble up from where the essential work of teaching and learning occurs every day.

We will keep the College’s internal and external constituents informed throughout the process, and whenever we can, obtain feedback.  And all of these ideas must be aligned with ongoing 2014-15 budget building, capital purchases and facilities maintenance, as well as information technology, human resources and public information issues, the Institutional Self-Study process, employee group concerns and Governing Board priorities. As I’ve said, building a plane while flying it.

From this complex synthesis will emerge 18-20 trends that will serve as the basis for a collaborative discussion by 150-200 internal and external thought leaders and stakeholders. We intend to invite these folks to the PCC Futures Conference in the latter half of February. At the one-day meeting, the invitees will break off into facilitated, small-group sessions whose charge will be to pare down and distill those 18-20 trends into four or five major initiatives that PCC can convert into a framework of well-defined goals and measurable actions. Our goal is to announce the strategic plan in the late spring.

It is at this point the airplane metaphor ceases to apply. All flights land, eventually. But the process we are initiating will be ongoing. We are cognizant that external events and new trends likely will prompt changes to our plans. We will reconvene the Futures Conference in 2015, when new information will be factored in and our course will be readjusted. The result will be the building of a collaborative culture of constant self-improvement. The hope is that, in always seeking to do things better in the future, Pima Community College will be able to reach new heights in its service to its students and the community.

Monitoring Report update

PCC today took a major step forward as it works to improve service to students and the community. The College submitted a Monitoring Report to the Higher Learning Commission, our accrediting organization.

 The HLC had directed us to submit the report, which addresses HLC concerns regarding two of its Assumed Practices. The report contains numerous ways we intend to improve our processes regarding complaints and faculty oversight of curriculum.

 In describing PCC’s situation, I’ve said on several occasions that the wheels on the bus have fallen off. The metaphor remains apt. Assumed Practices are shared by institutions of higher education in the United States. They are foundational, minimal requirements that colleges and universities must meet in order to function. In resolving the HLC’s concerns about Assumed Practices, I believe that we are putting the wheels back on the bus, and readying the College so that it can move forward in the future.

 And move forward we will. I view the next 12-15 months as an excellent opportunity for review and reassessment. This period of intense self-examination of our mission and operations will yield a better Pima.

 For students, this process will be virtually invisible, as I discussed in this video on accreditation and probation. They will still be able to apply for financial aid, their PCC credits will transfer to four-year colleges, and the quality of our degrees and certificates will not be diminished. For the tens of thousands of students who will be returning to our campuses next month, I’m pleased to say that it’s business as usual.



Listening to the community

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There’s an old saying that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. In that spirit, I have spent my first two weeks as Chancellor listening to the College’s many constituents. I have met and heard from business and education leaders, groups of concerned community members, individuals impacted by the former Chancellor, PCC employees, and government leaders at the federal, state and local levels.

I am heartened by what I’ve heard. People care deeply about Pima because it has such a broad and deep connection to the community. They want Pima to be at its best. In that context, I appreciate the apology included in the Message to the Community in the draft Monitoring Report that PCC is preparing for the Higher Learning Commission. We need to own the fact that we didn’t live up to our ideals. We need to acknowledge that the wheels on the bus came off before we begin making substantive improvements to our processes.

I also have been heartened that many community members are hopeful the College will successfully emerge from probation. Granted, theirs is a cautious optimism, and is tinged with healthy skepticism. But many people realize PCC takes the probation sanction very seriously, and has put in place an effective process, led by Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Jerry Migler, that will allow us to reflect, learn from our mistakes and improve our service to the community.

The College’s decision to reaffirm its open-admissions policy is a strong first step in that direction. The Governing Board, at a Special Meeting June 25, supported a resolution removing language from Standard Practice Guide 3501/AA in order to make permanent an earlier one-year suspension of minimum-level scoring on assessment examinations. The reality is that open access historically has been the reason for the existence of community colleges. The College shouldn’t turn someone away any more than a hospital should.

I have also heard widespread agreement that PCC has a crucial role to play in the economic development of our region. Many jobs of the future will be concentrated in industries that make and service new products. These jobs will not necessarily require a bachelor’s or advanced degree but can be the backbone of a prosperous, stable community. PCC is perfectly positioned to teach machinists, mechanics and other workers – many of whom will require sub-baccalaureate scientific, technical and engineering training — to meet new opportunities in the rapidly evolving global economy. I look forward to collaborating with the business community so that the College can continue to provide the best equipment and expertise to its students. I am committed to listening to the College’s stakeholders, the students, employees, and community members whom I am proud to serve.