In a letter sent last week to the Higher Learning Commission, the staff of Pima Community College is promising to address concerns brought forward by the Commission during an investigation that examined the school’s compliance with Criteria for Accreditation.
The HLC, which is responsible for accrediting institutions of higher learning, indicated it planned to place the college on probation after it received numerous complaints from employees relating to the college’s former chancellor, Ray Flores, and the failed action of the school’s Board of Governors to address those concerns in a timely fashion.
On behalf of the HLC, a team of four peer reviewers visited the college in mid-January to investigate. On March 15, a summary of those findings was submitted to HLC President Sylvia Manning.
“The fact-finding team found that the institution’s Board of Governors failed to conduct a serious investigation or otherwise take any action during a period of nearly eight years when it was aware of serious allegations against its Chancellor related to his behavior towards the institution’s employees,” the report said.
Several other areas of non-compliance were also discovered during the investigation, one of which related to the school’s failure to notify the HLC that it had changed its admission procedures to deny admission to incoming students who could not perform at the seventh-grade level in reading, writing, and arithmetic.
In a March 25 Governing Board meeting, Interim Chancellor Suzanne Miles acknowledged the college’s failure to notify the HLC of the changes, saying, “We’re going to openly admit that we erred.”
Now, the College has decided to temporarily reinstate open enrollment, at least until the issue is resolved with the HLC.
PCC Vice Chancellor for Public Information C.J. Karamargin said the issue has been a sticking point for the board members.
“In 2011, the college implemented the new placement standards thinking it would be in the best interest of students coming here to demonstrate a seventh-grade proficiency,” he said. “Prior to that, anyone could come in regardless of their abilities, and it was found that people who could not perform at the seventh-grade level could not succeed.”
Karamargin said there was a lot of public outcry when open enrollment was closed.
The talks of probation have been a worrying point for many PCC students who are primarily concerned that credits earned will not transfer to a four-year university.
That’s not so, according to Karamargin.
“If a college is placed on probation, it is still an accredited institution in terms of the HLC,” he said.
Because PCC would keep its accreditation during the potential two-year probation, financial aid offers will still apply, and credits earned would still transfer to major universities. Those opportunities only cease to exist if a college loses its accreditation.
Karamargin is hopeful the letter sent to the HLC will prevent probation from occurring.
“The point of the letter is not to contest their findings, but to provide them with a more complete picture,” he said. “There are a couple important points to consider – one of which is that the college is prepared to acknowledge and fix those items where work needs to be done.”
There’s another important consideration, as well, says Karamargin.
“The report never questioned the quality of instruction at Pima,” he said. “The HLC report focused on governing issues, not learning issues, and that I think is one of the primary reasons not to put the college on probation.”
Karamargin said many of the HLC’s concerns are already in the progress of being rectified.
“The HLC report singled out a number of things that had to do with the former chancellor and board,” he said. “We currently have an interim chancellor who is going to step down from that position on April 12, and a new person will then be put in place.”
If PCC is placed on probation, it will have two years to remedy the problems that led to the sanction.
The correspondence between PCC and the HLC is publicly available on PCC’s website under the Accreditation tab.
Questions and concerns can be sent to Accred-Questions@pima.edu.