"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived and dishonest - but the myth - persistent, persuasive and unrealistic."
Those wise words of President John F. Kennedy came to mind recently as I prepared for the fourth and final public information forum on new admission standards that the Pima Community College Board of Governors will host later this week.
Myth, unfortunately, has enveloped the college's plan to implement much-needed and long overdue changes to its admission standards. Here are the facts.
Students seeking admission to PCC will have to demonstrate the potential for success. That simple concept is the driving force behind the new standards. How do we define success? A student must demonstrate at least a seventh-grade proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics, as measured on PCC assessment tests. We have found - and the data affirm - that students who test below this level have little chance of succeeding in a college environment.
Students who take developmental education courses in a traditional 16-week classroom format, for example, advance to college-level work only about 5 percent of the time. Most drop out, discouraged and in debt. This, I'm sure we all can agree, is unacceptable.
Rest assured, PCC will not abandon those students who test below the seventh-grade threshold. But we simply cannot continue to shoehorn them into a one-size-fits-all approach that has a verifiable track record of failure. This is wrong for students, it is wrong for the college, and it is wrong for our community.
We must try something new.
That is the premise behind Pathways to Pima, an innovative program that will replace PCC's lowest-level developmental education classes. Pathways to Pima will provide students with individualized counseling and advising, as well as diagnostic testing to pinpoint where students need to improve. The student can then take self-paced, computer-based or face-to-face learning modules that will remedy the problem.
The goal of Pathways to Pima is to quickly get severely underprepared students ready to retake the assessment tests, meet the modest seventh-grade standard and be admitted to PCC. This is not the closing of a door, as some have suggested. It is opening a new one.
It is important to put the college's new admission standards in context. This fall, approximately 35,000 students will attend PCC. The new admission standards would have affected about 2,300 students - only about 6.3 percent of them.
PCC Adult Education and GED preparation classes help put thousands of adults and their families on track for better lives. Our Center for Training and Development gives hundreds the chance to attain meaningful employment. In 2009-10, PCC awarded 1,824 two-year degrees and certificates, more than any two-year college in the U.S.
Change can be hard. Fear of it can invariably lead some to argue that things should be kept the same. But the status quo is not an option. Data clearly show that we must do something different for underprepared students. To keep putting them on a pathway to failure is a waste of everyone's time and money. Even worse, it is unfair to our students.
PCC's new admission standards represent our best effort to confront a problem that over the years has kept countless men and women from unlocking their educational potential. Our faculty was instrumental in devising the standards and, just last week, the Faculty Senate voted overwhelmingly to support the new standards.
All stakeholders - students, parents, educators, and business and community leaders - have a role to play. This is the time for the community to pull together, dispense with the myths and use facts to strengthen education in our community.
I urge everyone interested in joining us in this effort to attend the public information forum on Saturday, Sept. 17, at 10 a.m. in the Proscenium Theater of PCC's West Campus, 2202 W. Anklam Road.
Dr. Roy Flores has been an educator for nearly 40 years. He has served as chancellor of Pima Community College since 2003.