/ Modified may 13, 2013 4:31 p.m.

What Probation Means for PCC

Education expert explains issues facing community college

Pima Community College's probationary status means it has two years to demonstrate it meets the standards set by the Higher Learning Commission, the college's accrediting agency.

It is one of several designations that an accrediting body can assign an institution, said Gary Rhoades, director of the Center For the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona.

If it does not demonstrate meeting the standards, Pima could lose its accreditation as a higher learning institution.

Probation requires PCC to demonstrate over time, through various practices, that is addressing the problems identified by the Higher Learning Commission, Rhoades said.

However, Rhoades said that currently, the college is still accredited and students do not have to worry.

From here, Pima faces some big challenges due to the “range of issues” identified by the commission, Rhoades said.

“It was not just one issue, one administrator, or one situation,” he said.

Included are financial and personal planning practices, involvement and engagement of the community, faculty and other participants in the organization, and decision-making.

Rhoades said the commission's probationary letter cited issues involving strategic and organized planning at the community college.

“The board and the institution as a whole need to demonstrate that they are systemically developing a plan for the institution,” he said.

Other issues include problems with policies about purchasing, hiring and renewal, and personnel handling sexual harassment situations.

The commission’s letter identified specific steps and standards the institution must meet very quickly. PCC must show it has a plan to make improvements and submit the plan by the end of July. The college must show a plan for improving areas of its administration and governing board, not just the institution.

The Association of Governing Boards is a resource that PCC could use, Rhoades said. It offers workshops, orientations, seminars and more. While the Arizona Board of Regents and Maricopa Community College District are members of the association, Pima is not.

Rhoades said the problems that Pima faces are significant, and the steps that need to be taken to address the problems are quite specific.

“The challenge will be moving from identifying policies, setting up task forces and doing formal things, to actually changing the behaviors of the board members and the people of the institution,” Rhoades said. “I have a lot of confidence that the Higher Learning Commission wants Pima to succeed.”

Ashley Grove is a University of Arizona journalism student and an intern at Arizona Public Media.

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