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Update: Pima probation pulled, monitoring to continue

Pima Community College is no longer on probation, after having been under scrutiny by accreditors for the past two years. But the Higher Learning Commission will continue to keep an eye on the school, as PCC works to carry out fixes to institutional troubles pointed out by the accrediting body.

In April 2013, the HLC put Pima College on probation “because of concerns related to integrity, financial management, personnel policies and procedures, shared governance, (Governing) Board oversight of the institution, and systemic and integrated planning."

Monday afternoon, PCC Chancellor Lee Lambert issued a brief announcement that the school's probation had been lifted — a move by the HLC that was widely expected.

But the accrediting body will keep the college "on notice" because a number of issues pointed to have not been completely rectified, leaving the school "at risk" of not meeting national standards.

"I am thankful for the hard work and dedication of the more than 300 employees, community members and students who worked tirelessly to conduct the Institutional Self Study, an important step in creating a culture of continuous improvement," Lambert said in an email to college employees.

"We still have significant work to do, but I am confident that this means a new day at PCC," Lambert said.

"Clearly, there are serious consequences for failing to live up to the HLC’s standards," Lambert said Tuesday. "However, I am confident that we will continue our great work and attain the fullest confidence of our accreditor."

The HLC notified Pima that the probation had been lifted in a letter Monday, school officials said.

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PCC will provide accreditors with a follow-up report by July 1, 2016, and the HLC will make a site visit to the school to evaluate progress by September 2016, Lambert said. The HLC will review the college's status at a meeting in February 2017, Lambert said.

Lambert said that by moving off Pima probation, "the HLC has placed us on the Standard Pathway for reaffirming our accreditation" — a standard process that will run through 2018-19. Accreditors periodically perform such reviews of all colleges and universities.

In December, an HLC report said the college should be taken off probation, but remain "on notice" while being improvements continue to be made in the school's administration.

Last year, Lambert called the changes mandated by the HLC "part of a continuous process of improvement."

Citing shortfalls in administrative oversight of finances, unreviewed policies and pointing to uninvestigated allegations of sexual harassment, the national accrediting body placed Pima on probation in April 2013.

In particular, HLC accreditors noted that PCC had developed "a culture of fear and retribution that pervaded the administration of the college." Pima was also admonished for changing its admission policies without adequate community involvement, although that factor did not rise to the level of being a cause for probation.

Governing Board member Scott Stewart was accused of having not called for an investigation of alleged sexual harassment of former college head Roy Flores. A woman who says Flores harassed her sent an anonymous letter to Stewart, who did not share the accusations with other board members. Stewart has acknowledged that he made an error in the case.

In July 2013, amid turmoil and calls for the resignation of multiple members of the Governing Board, including Stewart, Lambert was appointed chancellor.

PCC had been placed on probation because of "because of concerns related to integrity, financial management, personnel policies and procedures, shared governance, Board oversight of the institution, and systemic and integrated planning," the HLC said in 2013.

The commission meet in Chicago in January, where the chancellor and PCC staff made their case for the school. A vote on the school's status was expected in February or March.

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If the HLC had taken the rare and drastic step of revoking the college's accreditation, PCC students would no longer have been eligible for federal financial aid, and course credits would not transfer to other schools.

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