High-paid help sidelined as PCC enrollment plunges

2013-09-03T11:15:00Z 2013-09-03T23:40:40Z High-paid help sidelined as PCC enrollment plungesBy Carol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Enrollment continues to nosedive at Pima Community College, and the school has no plans for how to stop the slide, despite having more than a dozen administrators on the payroll who are responsible for doing so, Arizona Daily Star research shows.

The college’s new leader said he plans to make sure those administrators —who collectively make about $2 million a year — start doing a better job.

Internal PCC registration reports obtained by the Star show a 9 percent enrollment drop for the fall session that just started, on top of the 11 percent drop seen last fall.

The picture is worse at three of the school’s six campuses, which are seeing double-digit declines.

Community campus enrollment is down 11 percent, Desert Vista 18 percent and Northwest campus — now undergoing a $10 million expansion to make room for more students — has 12 percent fewer students.

By comparison, enrollment dipped 2.4 percent this year in the Maricopa Community College system a few hours north of Tucson, according to early figures.

The University of Arizona is on track for a 1 percent increase, early figures show. The UA broke an enrollment record last fall, topping 40,000 students for the first time. About 500 additional Wildcats are expected this fall, said UA’s Kasey Urquidez, who oversees enrollment.

At PCC, little effort has been made to study the enrollment slide and figure out fixes, records show.

“The college has some informed guesses as to the causes of the enrollment decay, but has not done much in-depth analysis,’ said a recent PCC proposal to hire an enrollment man in-depth analysis,” said a recent PCC proposal to hire an enrollment management consultant to look into the problem

“Nor has it done any systematic planning to halt and reverse the trend, which does not appear to be reversing,” said the proposal put together in June by former interim chancellor Zelema Harris.

Enrollment management — recruiting a steady stream of new students and supporting existing ones to help them stay in school — is a critical function for colleges and universities.

It affects many aspects of operations, including the number of employees required, the need for classroom space and government funding levels based on the number of students.

Harris’ consultant proposal was canceled before it got off the ground by Lee Lambert, PCC’s new chancellor, who took over July 1.

In an interview Thursday, Lambert said the magnitude of this year’s enrollment drop took him by surprise.

He had hoped for a much smaller decline of 3 percent, even in a year awash with headlines over a recent two-year probation sanction imposed by the school’s accreditor.

Lambert acknowledged enrollment management is in shambles at the school, but said now is the wrong time to bring in a consultant.

PCC already is racing against the clock to solve other administrative and governance problems the accreditor identified in order to get off probation, he said. If that doesn’t happen, the school could lose accreditation.

Lambert said much of the blame for the enrollment slide lies with the school’s previous leadership.

Former chancellor Roy Flores, who resigned last year in a sexual harassment scandal, and former provost Suzanne Miles discouraged administrators from executing their enrollment management duties, he said.

PCC Governing Board member Sylvia Lee, a former campus president at the college during the Flores-Miles era, agreed. Lee said in an interview the pair also dismantled many systems the school once had in place to support enrollment growth and stability.

In early 2011, for example, Flores eliminated PCC’s six high school recruiters, shut down a 5th-grade visitation program, and closed all three of the college’s child-care centers for adult students, Lee said.

Flores and Miles also changed the school’s admissions standards in violation of its mission, the accreditor found. About 5,000 would-be students walked away last year as a result.

Lambert said he thinks the best approach for now is to work with the administrators who are supposed to be doing enrollment management .

The college can always hire a consultant in a year or two if that doesn’t work, he said.

“If we don’t get off probation and get reaccredited,” Lambert said. “It won’t matter what our enrollment is.”

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at calaimo@azstarnet.com or 954-3158.

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