The Pima Community College chancellor wants to eliminate the school's lowest-level remedial education classes because they aren't effective.
Opponents say the proposal would cut off access to the only education option for many Tucsonans.
The PCC Governing Board will hold a public hearing Tuesday to discuss the plan.
Chancellor Roy Flores wants the college to change its admissions policy.
Under his plan, beginning next summer the college would start requiring students to have a high school diploma or GED. The college's current open-admissions policy allows "a non-high school graduate who is at least 16 years of age and can benefit from instruction" to enroll.
The proposed new policy would additionally require students to prove they can, indeed, benefit from instruction by taking a placement test that shows they are above seventh-grade level, Flores said.
The college has about 2,300 students who are below that level, he said. And PCC data show those students don't benefit.
They pay for remedial classes - often taking out loans or using federal financial aid - but they rarely move on to college-level classes or graduate from college, Flores said.
Only 5 percent of students in Math 82, the most basic class, completed any college-level class within two years, he said.
The new plan would eliminate the lowest tier of remedial classes in math, reading and writing.
Some enrolled students test as low as third-grade level, he said.
"It is grossly unfair for us to say, 'OK, your understanding of a sentence or your understanding of basic arithmetic is at that level, but we're going to bring you in to our traditional setting, and we wish you luck,' " Flores told the Governing Board on Thursday. "That's not working.
"It might make us feel good to let them in and say, 'Hey, everybody's got a shot.' But they really don't," he continued. "The data show that if you're at grade level four, you're not going to graduate from Pima, or the likelihood is very low."
Those testing below cutoff levels would be referred to programs such as GED classes, basic education classes for adults, classes to learn English or literacy programs.
Board member Scott Stewart said he is "leaning strongly in favor" of the plan, especially given the college's budget crunch.
"We have to make sure that what money we do have is spent in the most effective way possible," he said. "We don't have the resources to help people who come to us severely underprepared.
"The idea that we should use taxpayer financial aid again and again (for students) going through a class that they're not prepared for and they cannot succeed in is just not the responsible thing to do," he added.
However, Stewart said, he needs to hear more about what would happen to students who test below the cutoff before he fully supports the proposed policy.
Among those opposed to the plan are 50 former faculty members, administrators and board members.
Former state legislator Phil Lopes, a spokesman for the group, said changes to the open-admissions policy would mean "Pima is shirking its responsibility."
"We say it's Pima College's job to take those people who have educational needs, regardless of their education history, and take them from where they are to where they need to be," said Lopes, who was one of PCC's first faculty members.
He said the proposed admissions standards would hurt the chances of high school dropouts and others who need a second chance.
"Being a place where an 18-year-old can go or a 29-year-old can go to make up those educational deficiencies - that's something that the community college ought to be doing, not only philosophically, but because nobody else is doing it," he said.
Sylvia Lee, who took remedial classes at PCC in the '70s and who retired from PCC as a campus president this summer, is part of the group opposing the plan.
"Pima Community College will cease being an open-door institution, and it will become a selective college," she said. "And this community doesn't need another selective college - it needs an open-door institution like it has been for 40 years."
If you go
PCC Board of Governors hearings
• When: 8 a.m. Tuesday
• Where: Amethyst Room at the Downtown Campus, 1255 N. Stone Ave.
Did you know
About 80 percent of new students at PCC need some remedial classes to be ready for college-level classes.
Contact reporter Becky Pallack at firstname.lastname@example.org or 807-8012.