Pima Community College’s accreditation sanction has been lifted, ending a four-year process for the college to show its governance and management have improved.
The Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission notified the college Thursday that PCC is no longer considered at risk for not meeting accreditation standards and it changed the school’s status from “accredited — on notice” to “accredited.”
The final decision by the commission’s board of trustees overturns a recommendation by an accreditation team that visited the college five months ago. The visiting team said the school should be kept under sanction for six more months, until September 2017.
“This is a reaffirmation that the direction that we’ve been moving the college in is, in fact, the right step in the right direction,” Chancellor Lee Lambert said in an interview Thursday. Lambert was hired in 2013 to turn things around at PCC.
Mark Hanna, Governing Board chairman, said: “We know we have a lot further to go. There are still many challenges for Pima, but this is an enormous hurdle that we were able to get over.”
PCC has been under sanction since 2013 because it did not meet or barely met quality standards for the management and governance of a school. A 2015 follow-up review found many improvements but noted 11 areas in which PCC was at risk of ongoing problems.
Eight of the 11 problem areas are no longer a concern, the accreditor’s most recent decision said. It cited many positive changes such as improvements to employee training and complaint-handling procedures and increased attention to ethics and integrity.
One “critical” change occurred recently when the school hired two new employees to better assess the quality of education PCC students receive, an area that was long neglected.
But three of the 11 areas are still of “concern,” the accreditor’s latest decision said.
There’s no proof yet that PCC has proper systems in place for developmental education, or for long-term planning. And the two new employees recently hired to assess educational quality haven’t been on the job long enough to show improvement in that area, the most recent decision said.
But those few remaining issues don’t warrant keeping the college under sanction, the commission decided.
The commission also assigned a new staff member to oversee PCC’s progress, replacing a previous commission staffer who failed to recognize the extent of the college’s previous problems.
Mario Gonzales, head of a local watchdog group that alerted the accreditor to PCC’s problems, questioned the decision to remove the school from sanction.
In 2010, the commission gave PCC a clean bill of health when the college was awash in critical deficiencies, he pointed out.
“Anyone who knows the facts knows the college still has a lot of problems,” said Gonzales, president of the Coalition for Accountability, Integrity, Respect and Responsibility. The citizens’ group includes several retired PCC executives including ex-interim Chancellor Zelema Harris, a former Higher Learning Commission trustee, as well as Gonzales’ brother, Luis Gonzales, who recently was elected to PCC’s Governing Board.
Luis Gonzales, responding to the accreditor’s decision, said he had “mixed emotions.”
“I have some misgivings about it because the commission has not always paid attention,” when problems arose in the past, he said. Even so, the decision is good news because it will allow the college to move forward and start rebuilding its tarnished reputation, he said.
The accreditor acknowledged some citizens groups are still unhappy with the college, but noted that PCC has strong support from civic leaders.
A few months ago, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild sat in on a meeting between Lambert, PCC’s chancellor, and accreditation officials to help plead the college’s case, accreditation records show.
“While some community groups continue to express concerns, business leaders and the mayor indicated that recent changes were on target and the college is meeting community needs,” the commission’s final decision said.