PCC cancels failed $1.3 million program

2013-08-18T00:00:00Z 2013-08-18T16:33:27Z PCC cancels failed $1.3 million programBy Carol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A $1.3 million experiment that was supposed to prepare students to attend Pima Community College has been scrapped, with the school’s new leader apologizing for the program’s failure.

PCC’s website is being scrubbed to remove all mention of the ill-fated Prep Academy, created last year in response to public furor after the school turned away thousands of underprepared students in violation of its mission.

“The Prep Academy has ended,” Provost Jerry Migler told PCC’s Governing Board last week — reversing his stance of six months ago when he publicly defended the program.

Figures the college provided to the Arizona Daily Star show the program, which cost taxpayers $987,000 in 2013 and $309,000 in 2012, had a dismal failure rate.

Only 16 percent of would-be students referred to the Prep Academy went on to register for credit classes.

Chancellor Lee Lambert recently sent letters of apology to those affected by the fiasco. “We are reaching out the students we lost,” he told board members Wednesday. “We are sending letters saying ‘I’m sorry’ to try to make up for what happened. But you never can,” he said.

PCC is acknowledging the program’s failure as part of its effort to appease its accreditor, the Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission.

The school recently was placed on two years’ probation after the accreditor found sweeping problems in its administration and governance.

One of those problems was a change to admission rules that took effect last year, which required new students to pass a test before they could take credit courses. Those who didn’t pass were referred to the Prep Academy to upgrade their skills before retesting.

College executives said at the time they wanted to ensure incoming students had at least seventh-grade proficiency in math, reading and writing. It later emerged that the test they used did not measure grade levels and wasn’t designed for that purpose.

A recent PCC report to the accreditor said the Prep Academy was created on the fly by former provost Suzanne Miles “in response to the public opposition” over the admissions change. Faculty input was “minimal to nonexistent,” it said.

Miles recently resigned after the accreditor’s findings questioned her competence and integrity.

About 6,000 would-be students were denied regular admission to PCC and referred to the Prep Academy, college figures show. Of those, 986 went on to register for credit classes.

Of the other 5,000 or so, about half had some contact with the Prep Academy but didn’t register for credit courses. The other half simply walked away. The college’s enrollment plunged 11 percent in the wake of the admissions change.

PCC’s Governing Board recently voted 4-1 to restore the school’s open-admissions policy. Board member Scott Stewart, a staunch advocate of the failed admission restrictions, was the lone vote opposed.

PCC also has pledged to redesign its systems for serving underprepared students.

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at calaimo@azstarnet.com or at 573-4138.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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