After nearly four years of accreditation problems, Pima Community College is having a hard time hiring key administrators.
Unsuccessful searches — those in which jobs are advertised but no one is hired — have become common at the college, as have delays of a year or more in filling critical vacancies, Arizona Daily Star research shows.
School officials say hiring holdups are to be expected at a complex organization that requires administrators with specific skills. “This is a critical juncture for the college and we’re doing everything we can to make certain that we are hiring the very best people,” PCC spokeswoman Libby Howell said.
Experts say the type of hiring issues PCC faces mirror those that occur in the corporate world when a firm’s reputation has been damaged by problems. A tarnished reputation has “a significant impact on the attractiveness and expense of talent acquisition and retention,” Corporate Responsibility Magazine said last year in the annual survey on the topic.
When 1,000-plus North Americans were asked over the phone about their willingness to work for a firm that is not well-regarded, 77 percent said they weren’t likely to even if they were unemployed, the survey found. Every annual survey since 2012 has had similar results, it said.
A Harvard Business Review survey this year of more than 1,000 professionals found three top factors that create a bad reputation as a place to work: concerns about job security, dysfunctional teams and poor leadership. Nearly half of those polled said they wouldn’t work for such a firm for any amount of money.
PCC has been under public scrutiny since 2012 when eight women accused the school’s former chancellor of sexual harassment. In 2013, the school’s accreditor placed the college on two years’ probation for mismanagement and lax governance. It is now “on notice,” an accreditation status that means the school has improved but remains at risk of ongoing problems. The accreditor, the Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission, will decide early next year whether to lift the notice sanction.
Loss of customers is another well-known negative side effect of a damaged reputation and PCC also resembles the corporate world in that regard. Student enrollment has dropped by more than 30 percent in the past five years and is poised to decline again this fall, public records show.
Howell rejected the idea that PCC’s reputation is a factor in recent hiring delays.
“Actually our applicant numbers are up and many, many of them are incredibly qualified,” she said.
Of 52 administrator jobs listed on PCC’s website last week, 14 of them — 27 percent — were either vacant or filled temporarily on an acting or interim basis. Five others were filled within the past three months.
No takers for $88,000 job
One hiring delay in particular could give pause to PCC’s accreditor, which is sending a team to Tucson next month to see if the school has improved enough to come off sanctions.
Since April 2015, the college has been trying to hire a director of assessment, responsible for creating systems to better assess the quality of PCC’s educational programs. Sixteen months and two unsuccessful searches later, there still are no takers for the post that pays up to $88,000 a year.
The lack of a solid assessment system is a key concern for the accreditor. Without regular quality reviews, schools risk turning out graduates who don’t meet the standards for employment in their chosen fields.
Other unsuccessful searches have affected different areas of the college. The finance department, for example, has been without a second-in-command since February 2015, a post that pays up to $128,000 a year.
Recruiting key employees costs money for things like finalists’ travel costs, so searches that don’t produce new hires add to an organization’s overhead. Costs also rise if outside help must be hired to cover a vacant position, as recently happened at PCC.
The college retained a consultant for $125,000 last year to run its financial aid operation for nine months until a new financial aid chief was hired. The consultant ended up staying four more months — at an added cost of more than $70,000 — when the permanent hire was delayed due to an unsuccessful search. PCC’s new financial aid boss starts work Monday making $105,00 a year.
THREE TIMES LONGER
Long hiring delays often cause related problems, experts say, such as low morale in affected work areas and stalled progress on major improvement projects.
Howell, the college spokeswoman, cited several causes for PCC’s hiring delays. Some candidates drop out, others need time to notify current employers or relocate to Tucson and the process requires time-consuming background checks, she said.
Other public entities face those same hurdles, yet still manage to hire far more quickly.
PCC’s recent search for a police chief, for example, took 14 months — about three times longer than it took the city of Tucson to hire a new police chief last year and twice as long it took the University of Arizona in 2014. Tucson’s chief search, like PCC’s, was complicated by a candidate dropping out and by the need to relocate the new hire, but that didn’t delay the city’s search.
The new police chief also starts work Monday at a salary of $105,000, leading a department where morale problems arose under the temporary chief the college installed to keep things running.
On average, PCC takes 216 days to hire a new administrator, Howell said. The city’s average is 30 to 75 days depending on the nature of the administrative job, while Pima County’s average is less than 60 days, officials there said.
Some of PCC’s planned quality improvements are behind schedule in the wake of hiring delays.
For example, a $400,000-plus plan to improve student advising with mobile technology was supposed to launch this fall but is on hold until next fall. The delay coincided with a recent seven-month search for a new head of information technology, but Howell said the events are unrelated.
PCC’s Governing Board formed an advisory committee last year to get help with human resource issues, but it’s unclear how well the setup is working.
Board members Mark Hanna and Martha Durkin, who are on the advisory group, told the Star they didn’t know PCC was taking an average of 216 days to fill administrative jobs because college officials never mentioned it.
Instead, they said, officials cited a 43-day average — the time it takes PCC to fill all job openings, not just administrative.
The advisory committee also has ignored Arizona’s open meetings law, the Star found in a review of agendas and minutes.
The law requires meeting agendas to describe public business in enough detail to let taxpayers know ahead of time what’s expected to occur. Most of the advisory committee’s agendas include a business item called “miscellaneous” without any specifics.
The law also requires public bodies to post minutes of their meetings within three business days, something PCC failed to do after the committee’s last meeting on Aug. 11. The minutes still weren’t available as of Saturday, Aug. 20.
Hanna and Durkin said they’re satisfied the college is headed in the right direction.
“I have confidence that our HR department and search committees are doing a thorough job in filling critical administrative positions,” Hanna said.
“The quality of the employees hired and promoted matters more than the time it takes to complete the process,” she said.