PCC Proposal Could End Open Enrollment Tradition at College

There’s growing opposition in reaction to a proposal to change the admissions policy for Pima Community College. The community is invited to an 8 a.m. forum tomorrow, July 19, to learn more and add to the current discussion. The forum will take place in the Amethyst Room at the college’s downtown campus at Speedway Boulevard and Stone Avenue.

PCC Chancellor Roy Flores issued a report in June that included an announcement that by next summer, admissions to the community college will require a high school diploma or GED, as well as scoring “above a minimum level established by Pima Community College on college assessment examinations” in math, writing and reading.

Flores told the Tucson Weekly that the college, which has about 70,000 students at its five campuses, offers remediation services to 80 percent of all students. But a smaller percentage of those students, about 2,300 who enter Pima without a high school diploma or GED, end up failing due to a severe lack of skills — students who can’t operate at a third, fourth and fifth grade level.

In order to be admitted at Pima, a student doesn’t have to have gone to one day of school, according to Flores. New students are tested to see if they are deficient in writing, reading or math. Some of those students might want to work toward getting their GED, but have a lot of work to do before they get to those GED classes, and many of those students, Flores says, fail before they get there.

“We take their money, and they buy expensive text books and then end up failing, burdened by debt and student loans,” Flores says. “It isn’t fair when you have no chance of succeeding.”

Former State Rep. Phil Lopes and others disagree with Flores’ plan to change PCC’s open admission policy.

Lopes told the Weekly he and others are thinking about that 28-year-old who dropped out of high school at 16 and needs to improve his or her life in order to feed their family.

According to a letter and announcement sent to the PCC board by those against the policy change, the founding Pima County Junior College District Board adopted an open-admission policy in 1967, and that the college “provides an open door to educational opportunity. It is more interested in what a student is ready to do than in what he has done.”

The letters point out that other community colleges continue with the same open-door policy —- one that is supported by the American Association of Community Colleges.

Also shared was a perspective by a faculty retiree that “closing the door on education is not what the College was founded upon, and it is not how it contributes best to the community in difficult times.”

Documents (in PDF form) from those opposing the changes:

An appeal letter to the PCC Board

Details of the opposition to the proposed changes

Lopes says more than 50 former PCC faculty, administrators and board members signed the letter and a petition asking Flores and the board to reconsider. The proposed change they say would violate the intent of Pima County residents who established the college. Lopes says such a drastic step should go before voters.

Flores says those who arrive at Pima with skills in reading, writing, and math above a sixth-grade level tend to succeed. Those in need of more skills have turned to PCC's adult-education classes, classes that have faced severe funding cuts from the state. Flores says there are financial challenges for the colleges, and so far, they have dealt with those challenges by reducing administration by 20 percent and staff positions by 7 percent.

But funding and cuts remain at issue, and the focus needs to be on programs that need it most — such as the school's popular nursing program and vocational classes. As for those who can't enter those classes, and don't have a high school degree or GED, and/or test at a seventh-grade level, Flores suggests those students go to organizations in Tucson, such as the Literacy Volunteers, to build their skills.

Flores says he's proud of the connected Pima has developed between the college and state universities — strengthening the pathway for students to go from PCC to a university to transfer. Staff from the college and universities regularly meet to discuss making sure requirements are the same "so that when the student transfers, they are not at a disadvantage. These discussions are ongoing. The universities are happy, and so are we."

But what's missing from any discussion is what is happening between K-12 and the community colleges.

Flores agrees that a discussion is missing between K-12 and faculty regarding expectations of what a student should know before heading for college or graduating from school.

"Right now, they focus on passing the AIMS test, which is not the same," Flores says. "Working collaboratively is one thing we need to do."

The Tuesday morning forum—tomorrow at 8 a.m.—is the first of three community forums to discuss the proposal. For updates and more information, go to www.pima.edu.