What the HLC report means for Pima College

By AMARIS ENCINAS

The Higher Learning Commission is a Chicago based regional accreditation institution that, “accredited degree-granting colleges and universities that are based in a nineteen stage region basis of the United States. 

The HLC’s mission as a regional accreditor is to, “validate the quality of an institution as a whole and evaluates multiple aspects of an institution, including its academic offerings, governance and administration, mission, finances, and resources. HLC’s institutional accreditation includes all degree levels as well as onsite and online offerings”, according to the HLC website. 

The HLC works in relativity to the U.S. Department of Education and the process of determining accreditation is based off of a system of peer reviews. Institutions are evaluated upon a Criteria  for Accreditation that is drafted up by the HLC as the set standard for evaluation. 

The criteria for accreditation is divided into five core categories: Mission,  Integrity: Ethical and Responsible Conduct, Teaching and Learning: Quality, Resources, and Support, Teaching and Learning: Evaluation and Improvement, Resources, Planning, and Institutional Effectiveness.

In order for Pima Community College to remain as an educational institution it must be accredited by a private accrediting institution, in this case it is the HLC. However, if it is not accredited by the HLC the college can still operate on a business level, but it no longer remains credible as an educational institution. 

Pima’s extensive history with the HLC dates back to 1972 and its most recent letter sent to the college on Feb. 8, 2019 with its findings. Most notably Pima was placed on probation on April 6, 2013. Then Pima was placed on notice for probation on Feb. 26, 2015. March 9, 2017 was removed of its notice from the HLC and was pending review for its next visit which happened on Dec. 3-6. 

The reason for why Pima was first placed on probation in 2013 was because, “Pima Community College (“the College”) is out of compliance with Criterion Two, Core Component 2.A, “the institution operates with integrity in its financial, academic, personnel, and auxiliary functions; it establishes and follows fair ethical policies and processes for its governing board, administration, faculty, and staff’, according to the PCCD Action Letter from the HLC. The college was to remain on probation until the necessary evaluation process was taken by the Institutional Actions Council hearing committee to decide whether or not Pima was going to be in compliance with At that time, the Board will determine whether the College has demonstrated that it is in compliance with all Criteria for Accreditation and whether Probation can be removed and accreditation continued, or, if the College has not demonstrated compliance, whether accreditation should be withdrawn, according to the PCCD Action Letter from the HLC.  

Pima was first placed on probation in 2013 and remained on probation and placed on notice throughout Feb. 26, 2015. Finally coming around to March 9, 2017 where the notice was formally removed by the HLC.

This last year on Nov. 5, 2018  Pima submitted an Assurance Agreement to the HLC which went over how Pima was falling into line with the core principles the HLC uses to merit accreditation. Peer reviewers sent from the HLC visited PCC,  Dec. 3-4, 2018 to review compliance with the various components of HLC’s accreditation criteria. Multi-Campus visits were conducted Dec. 5-6 at the Community, Downtown and Northwest campuses.  

It is important to note that the HLC submitted two evaluation reports, a Mid-Cycle Report dated Jan. 29, 2019 and a letter dated Feb. 8, 2019) with its findings. Pima will deliver the Monitoring Reports requested by the HLC, with a due date no later than June 1, 2021.

The mid-cycle report was filed through the HLC was designed to give Pima comprehensive feedback and outline the “intentions” that the college has placed in order to meet all the criterion outlined by the HLC. 

According to the Mid-Cycle report by the HLC, Pima had begun working towards, “restructuring its administration, has redesigned its governance to facilitate shared governance and communication amongst its internal stakeholders (faculty, staff, and students), is working to standardize policies and procedures across all campuses and all departments, is trying to align academic departments and academic scheduling with a goal of a multi-term schedule, and through all of these processes, is working to reduce redundancy and inefficiency, as well as take the steps necessary to increase or stabilize enrollment, the construction of the Centers of Excellence and lastly the reevaluation of the Educational Master Plans because of them.”

It had also met all of the HLC”s accreditation requirements to date and had begun work towards those goals 2014-2017. But most notably the emphasis on the International Department in 2014.  However, there has been the recommendation for change or improvement in terms of academic advising because, “However, the team heard from students that it has been unclear to them what courses transfer for their specific degrees and Academic Advisors confirmed that there have been challenges in the past with consistent advising of students. To address this, program specific advisors have been assigned and program pathways have been developed under the Guided Pathways model recently adopted by PCC. The Team encourages PCC to complete Guided Pathways for all of its programs as a way to guide students to effective transfer and efficient completion of programs”, according to the HLC Mid-Cycle Report. 

The important takeaway is that Pima remains free to function without any sanctions from the HLC and will continue to operate on the Peer Reviewers recommendation that the College continue with the improvements launched over the past five years. The College “Met” the HLC’s standards in 15 of the 21 Core Components for Accreditation. As expected, a half-dozen Core Components in 4 of the 5 criteria were “Met with Concerns” and will require monitoring, allowing the College to continue our improvement plan and focus institutional resources on student success.

HLC Review Team complimented the “collegiality, cooperation, and transparency” it found across the College, and also found “the college moving forward with a structure which encourages collaboration and the sharing of best practices across campuses.” Pima is expanding and enhancing the programs and services we offer to students and the community, according to Chancellor Lee Lambert via email.

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