Tag Archives: STEM

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.

Community colleges: propelling workers into STEM careers

Duval Ducey

Here’s a fact that bears repeating: One in five U.S. jobs requires knowledge of science, technology, engineering or mathematics – the STEM disciplines.

And here’s a fact that might not be so well-known: Community colleges award more than half of post-secondary STEM degrees and will play a major role in developing a career-ready workforce that can invigorate our nation’s economy.

The connection between education and the economy has informed recent visits to Pima Community College by Doug Ducey and Fred DuVal, the Republican and Democratic candidates for Arizona governor. Both men took time out of their busy schedules to learn about our Aviation Technology Center, which Inside Tucson Business has termed “one of the best-kept secrets” in Southern Arizona. Located at the western edge of Tucson International Airport, PCC’s aviation facility is the perfect place to see how we’re doing our part to train men and women for well-paying careers in one of the most vibrant sectors of Arizona’s economy.

Fred, a former member of the Arizona Board of Regents, outlined his plans for education at the Aviation Technology Center last month. Earlier this week, Doug, Arizona’s State Treasurer, toured the center and met with me and several other College administrators. Thanks to Advanced Program Manager Tom Hinman, Department Chair Eric Ross and others at the center, our aviation program is no longer secret from either of the men who hope to lead our state.

Of course, within the region’s aerospace industry, the Aviation Technology Center has a well-known stellar reputation. PCC is one of only a handful of the approximately 160 FAA-approved schools to have curriculum targeted at commercial jet transports and seems to be the only U.S. school teaching Advanced Structural Repair and Modification, a highly sought after and well-paying skill. Over the past year, more than a dozen firms with local operations have hired our students. Median salaries in the field range from $36,020 to $46,680, not including the overtime/shift differential pay that employees often accrue. It is not unusual for experienced, qualified technicians to earn close to $100,000 a year.

The Aviation Technology Center is one of the areas of the College benefiting from the state’s $600,000 allocation for STEM in 2014-15. We also are using the funding for microscopes and other science lab equipment, laptop and tablet computers for mathematics students, and anatomy and physiology models in our health-related professions courses. By improving the education of our students, PCC increases their employability, and we look forward to working with the state to develop resources in the future.

It’s no secret that Arizona’s rebound from the Great Recession has been slow. That’s especially true for Tucson, which recently was ranked 143rd out of 150 U.S. cities recovering from the economic downtown, slightly ahead of Detroit. Nearly 3,000 STEM positions were unfilled locally in the first quarter of 2013. In PCC’s Aviation Technology Program, the number of students awaiting admission exceeds capacity by 10 percent. Against this backdrop, it is important that all our constituents know what is at stake, and the vast potential PCC has as a launching pad for developing Southern Arizona’s 21st-century STEM economy.

Regardless of who is elected governor of Arizona, I am pleased that both of the major party candidates sought to learn about PCC’s aviation program and our critical role in workforce training. My hope is that the investment of time they made in PCC during the campaign will help shape their decisions once the work of governing begins early next year.

Lastly, let’s not forget that choosing Arizona’s next governor is up to us. I urge all PCC students, employees and community members to make their voices heard in the upcoming election. Doug and Fred made a point to learn about us; we should learn about them. Get to know the issues. Familiarize yourself with the candidates’ positions. Don’t miss this opportunity to make an informed choice on Nov. 4. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 6 and early voting begins three days later, on Oct. 9. More information is available from the Office of the Secretary of State and the Pima County Recorder’s Office.

New resources to enhance economy through education

I want to thank the Arizona Legislature and Governor Jan Brewer for their generous support of PCC’s efforts to improve workforce training and education in the all-important Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

The state’s $600,000 STEM-workforce appropriation to PCC, part of its 2014-15 budget allocation to Arizona’s community colleges, will have an immediate impact on academics. New microscopes, a computerized milling machine, and a life-sized human anatomy model will benefit students in diverse disciplines that range from Biology to Machine Tool Technology.  [You can read a complete list of projects here.]

In working toward becoming a premier community college, we recognize the necessity of giving students the tools to succeed in a profession. For some, the road to success begins at PCC and eventually includes attaining a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college or university. Others are attending PCC to gain the skills and abilities needed by employers in industries that increasingly require sophisticated STEM knowledge.

We are here for all students who wish to learn, prosper and connect. PCC stands with the state’s community colleges, as well as our partners in K-12 and at four-year universities, as we work with the state to enhance Arizona’s economic development through education and training.

A building for the future

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This won’t come as a surprise to anyone but it needs to be stated: I am very proud of the new instructional building on our Northwest Campus.

The gorgeous addition to PCC’s newest campus was dedicated Thursday at a ceremony attended by about 100 business and community leaders, as well as PCC students, employees and Board members. The brief ribbon-cutting ceremony marked a significant milestone for the Campus and the entire College.

The building is a true gem. Designed by the Tucson firm of Burns Wald-Hopkins Shambach Architects, it features flexible learning spaces that can be configured to meet individual classroom needs. It has expanded space for Northwest’s Hotel and Restaurant Management and Clinical Research Coordinator programs. The dedicated lab spaces for mathematics and the sciences are truly state-of-the-art.

The building will strengthen and build on our ties to our K-12 partners, to our community partners, to our university partners, and to our business and industry partners. Its classrooms will serve the entire community as PCC grows its high-need Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields to support southern Arizona’s workforce.

As Ed Stolmaker, president/CEO of the Marana Chamber of Commerce, said during the ceremony, a qualified STEM workforce is essential to the prosperity of our region. That observation was echoed by Dave Perry, president/CEO of the Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce. Dave remarked that the founders of two of the area’s top bioscience companies got their starts in academia. Dave put it aptly: Higher education “is the place where the future begins.”

And Juan Ciscomani of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce spoke for many in noting that as a 2003 PCC alumnus and the first in his family to graduate from college, “Pima gave a lot to me.”

What is true for Juan is true for many who attend PCC. I noted at the ceremony that our Northwest Campus is a favorite location for adult learners preparing for their high school equivalency exams. We are striving to make all of PCC a place where everyone, regardless of where they start, can progress on their education journey. The Northwest building is our newest center for students to achieve their goals. It will help positions PCC to our community well into the 21st century.

Testifying before a Congressional panel

Yesterday I had the honor of testifying in Phoenix before a hearing of the Education & Workforce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.  The topic was “Reviving Our Economy: Supporting a 21st Century Workforce.”

I was one of eight Arizona business, government and higher education leaders, including University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart and Arizona State University President Michael Crow, called upon to testify before the panel, which was chaired by Rep. John Kline of Minnesota and included Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Matt Salmon of Arizona.

Here is my testimony:

Chairman Kline, Representative Grijalva, Representative Salmon, thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk on behalf of Pima Community College. Along with nine other community college districts in Arizona and the more than 1,100 community colleges in the United States, we work every day to help students achieve their academic and career goals.

Today I want to talk about the important role that federal investment in education plays in helping PCC prepare students for jobs and careers in the 21st century. Tucson, PCC’s home, is the sixth-poorest of its size in the U.S. Increasing our competitiveness in an unforgiving economy is a top priority. But because of globalization and technological advances, we know we’re up against firms from across the U.S. around the world.

The approximately $46 million investment that the federal government makes in PCC helps us achieve multiple goals, particularly improving student retention, engaging underserved communities, and meeting the needs of area business and industry.

Recently, PCC was awarded two grants to help adult learners transition into the workforce. Each grant contains an element that requires us to engage the private sector. In 2010, Pima secured a five-year grant to provide education and services to low-income individuals so that they could enter the fast-growing healthcare sector in a variety of professions, including health information technicians, licensed practical nurses, and community health advisors. PCC has aligned with a key partner, Pima County One Stop, which provides Workforce Investment Act-funded services to nearly 4,000 job-seekers. More than 1,000 people have enrolled in the HPOG program to date, with 210 of these formerly jobless men and women finding employment in the healthcare industry at an average wage of $11.84 an hour.

Similarly, the first three years of our participation in the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program, better known as TAACCCT, has been extremely successful. As part of a community college consortium in Arizona, PCC prepares students for skilled, high-wage jobs in the energy industry. This program is geared to helping military veterans and other adult learners. Working in partnership with the local utility, the Tucson Electric Power Company, we have developed an Electrical Utility Technology certificate, and will be adding an associate’s degree concentration as well. Tucson Electric Power or its subsidiaries have hired 63 percent of the 50 students taking part in the program. We are working with Southwest Gas Corporation to develop a similar program in the gas industry.

Regarding student retention, many PCC students are of extremely modest means who often are the first in the family to attend college. PCC strives to keep its tuition low, but the reality is these students cannot afford to attend college without federal financial aid, including Pell Grants.

The number of PCC student receiving Pell Grants has declined from more than 16,000 in 2011 to about 10,000 this year. PCC is joining with the American Association of Community Colleges in asking that Congress reinstate the Year-Round Pell Grant, which will increase student success in summer classes, as well as the Ability to Benefit requirement, and the 18-semester cap on eligibility. The average age of a PCC student is 27; many are balancing work and family obligations while attending school part-time. Making these changes in Pell eligibility will help our students as they piece together the credits they need to reach their educational goal.

Regarding engaging underserved populations, Tucson is home to about 80,000 to 100,000 adults who lack a high school credential. These men and women will face hard lives, as you know, marked by chronic unemployment and an ongoing need for various types of government assistance I’m proud to say that PCC Adult Education, the second-largest provider of Adult Education services in the state, has helped Arizona achieve a No. 2 national ranking in the success of Adult Education students. PCC Adult Ed serves more than 6,100 students a year. The high school equivalencies these women and men earn give them a chance to climb the economic ladder. Also, PCC is developing new contextualized learning initiatives that integrate Adult Basic Education with occupational skills training, so that the student is put on the fast track to a postsecondary credential.

 Pima Community College is committed to aligning its curriculum and services with the needs of industry to keep the talent pipeline filled with workers who have the skills business needs now and in the future. Each of the College’s more than 120 occupational programs is assisted by an advisory committee composed of representatives of from local business who can provide us with real-time, ground-level insights regarding industry needs and emerging trends. These insights result in real change in our programs. For example, we are working with a consortium of more than three dozen area manufacturers to alter our Machine Tool Technology curriculum so it meets National Institute for Metalworking Skills certification standards, and aligns with high school Joint Technical Education District curriculum. Also we are working to establish a Business Intelligence Competency Center that will give us the ability to sift through mounds of data to recognize patterns, detect trends and unearth opportunities. A robust Business Intelligence tool would allow Pima to better align its resources with other entities in the community to further economic development of the region.

I would like to conclude with the words from Andy Grove, the founder of the computer chip maker Intel, who coined the phrase “strategic inflection point” to describe a time of profound change, risk and opportunity. The United States is at a strategic inflection point as it seeks to retool its economy for the 21st century. Education remains a key element in achieving that goal. The federal government’s investment in PCC helps us assist students as they seek to gain the education they need for the middle-skill jobs that will form the core of our economic recovery. Maintaining federal funding levels to federal student aid programs, to Adult Education and Literacy programs, and to workforce development programs is crucial for Pima Community College to keep the talent pipeline filled with motivated, capable employees. The return on the federal government’s continued investment in the next generation of workers has been and will continue to be tangible. For individuals, it results in entry into the middle class. For our nation, it provides the backbone of stable, prosperous communities and gives meaning to the words, “The American Dream.”

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.