Pima Community College faces probation and possible loss of accreditation after a scathing report from the Higher Learning Commission. Policy experts now describe the best-case and worst-case scenarios.
Professor Gary Rhoades with the Center for the Study of Higher Learning says the best-case scenario is the most likely. Rhoades says it is rare for an institution to lose its accreditation, and the report by the HLC creates a clear path for PCC administrators to make good changes towards keeping accreditation.
"Taking it seriously is to not to say oh we already handled that because the depth of the problems that are identified go beyond changing this and changing that," says Rhoades.
He also believes the college should reach out to students for input.
"Set up a variety of meetings with smaller groups of students where more people will have a chance to speak their views."
Only one governing board member was willing to talk to Tucson News Now before the board issued a statement as a group. Newest member Dr. Sylvia Lee says she looks forward to addressing admissions policies to make PCC more open and accessible to all types of potential students.
"Let's say you're a 50 year old and you want to change a career. That's what the mission's for. Or somebody right out of high school who wants to get two years and transfer on," says Lee.
She also says now is the time for the college to grow and improve.
"I want to look at this as obviously it's very serious but it's also a way for us to look deep and make things better."
CJ Karamargin, a spokesman for the college says the school "is going through the report with a fine tooth comb and will address each of the charges by the March 29th deadline."
He says "the school with own up to the issues."
If the school is given probation as the most likely scenario "it will not affect financial aide the quality of programs."
During the probationary period "it will remain an accredited institution."
Penelope Starr, a student who is not looking for a degree but taking classes to help her make a documentary, told us "I'm not worried about accreditation but there are a lot of young people that this their best opportunity to get a college education."
She concerned about the credit hours and whether they will transfer.
"If it could jeopardize their ability to transfer, it's very serious," Starr says.
Arts instruction Howard Stewart says "the school will adapt" and this will give the college a "chance to cleanse itself."
Another felt it's a "danger" if it threatens the students chances of an education.
Stuart Allen feels the problem with the school administration is its "locked into a corporate mentality and serves itself and not the students."
The worst-case scenario, Rhoades says, will have students taking a hit. He says if PCC loses accreditation, it loses Title IV funding. That's financial aid that includes any federally funded aid program, such as a Federal Pell Grant, subsidized and unsubsidized direct loans, the Federal Perkins Loan, Safford loans, and Federal work study.
Graduates and current students will lose the prestige of their degrees and the ability to transfer credits to other schools.
The president of the accrediting body said he will recommend the college be put on probation at its April 2013 meeting. The college will have two years to prove it meets criteria for accreditation. If it does not, it will be revoked, commission president Sylvia Manning wrote to PCC governing board members in a report released Saturday.
The Higher Learning Commission issued a 30-page report on a fact-finding visit to Tucson in January.
The report slammed PCC administrators and former chancellor Ray Flores, including changing admission policies without community input, issuing contracts without bidding, charges of sexual harassment against Flores and claims interim chancellor Suzanne Miles misled investigators.
Today, however, Miles and Dr. Brenda Even responded with a letter suggesting that the college is not on probation:
You undoubtedly know that Pima Community College received notification last week regarding a recommendation about our status with the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Below is an account of what happened, what's next and what it means for employees and students.
At the outset we would like to stress PCC's status has not changed. We remain a fully accredited institution of higher learning and we are not on probation. Our students returned to class today from spring break and, for them, nothing is different. Pima remains a place where our students can acquire a quality education at a reasonable cost.
On Friday afternoon, March 15, the College was e-mailed a letter from Sylvia Manning, president of the HLC, one of several organizations that accredit institutions of higher learning such as PCC. Accompanying the letter was a report by a four-educator HLC fact-finding team that visited PCC on Jan. 17-18. The team was here to look into issues regarding governance, administration and human resources raised by individuals and groups.
PCC's Governing Board received the HLC letter and report at a publicly-noticed meeting on Saturday afternoon. The 30-page report is now under review.
In her letter, Ms. Manning said based on the fact-finding team's findings and conclusion, she will recommend to the HLC's Board of Trustees PCC be placed on probation. The HLC Board will decide PCC's status at its annual meeting early next month.
In accordance with HLC procedure, the College will respond in writing by March 29 to the findings and Ms. Manning's recommendation. Our response will include corrections to misstatements and errors of fact made in the HLC team report. We also will point out several items have already been addressed. And as we did with the HLC letter and report, we will post our response on the Accreditation page of our website.
A common question is, what does probation mean for PCC, should the HLC Board impose it? According to the HLC, probation indicates an institution is not in compliance with the with one or more of the commission's Criteria for Accreditation, and must demonstrate within two years it has remedied the issues that led to the sanction. (For more information, consult the HLC's Special Conditions for Affiliation webpage.)
Probation would not affect PCC's ability to offer financial aid to our students. Our academic offerings will remain unchanged. Also, about 20 individual PCC programs are accredited or certified by specialized agencies recognized by the Arizona Department of Education and/or the U.S. Department of Education. Their status also remains unchanged.
Obviously, our goal is to avoid probation. If, however, probation is imposed, we can use this opportunity to improve the services we provide to our students and the community. We will work diligently to address any area of non-compliance. The HLC reaccredited the College for 10 years in 2010, and we are confident that we quickly will be able to demonstrate to the HLC accreditation is well-deserved.
Lastly, we want to reassure all Pima employees we are taking this matter very seriously. If you have any questions, we encourage you to attend the upcoming budget presentations at our campuses. We will be available to discuss the HLC report and our response at the beginning of these sessions. (Dates, times and locations are below.) Additionally, please don't hesitate to direct your questions to either of us, your campus president or any of our vice chancellors.
Dr. Brenda Even & Dr. Suzanne Miles
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