Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
Pima Community College has had a long egalitarian tradition of offering higher education to anyone who wanted it but that could change in 2012. During the summer, Pima announced its plans to eliminate its open enrollment policy.
The proposed changes to Pima College’s admissions policies will not only close the doors of opportunity to thousands of Arizona’s young people but also set up road blocks to attaining a higher education.
Currently, students entering Pima take placement exams to assess their skills and determine what level of math, reading, and writing classes they should take as entering freshmen. Students who don’t demonstrate the skills to succeed in college level courses right out of high school are placed in “developmental” (AKA remedial) for-credit classes.
According to Pima Community College Chancellor Roy Flores, writing in the Arizona Daily Star, only 5 percent of students who take remedial classes succeed in college.
Assuming lower level students are just wasting their time and money by trying college, Pima’s governing board proposes to institute an entrance exam which will determine who is admitted to Pima. In addition to passing the entrance exam, students must show proof of a high school education or a GED. Students who don’t pass the entrance exam will be offered remedial courses which non-credit and, therefore, not eligible for financial aid.
On the surface, these changes may seem minor, but if you are an unemployed or underemployed person who wants to better his life through higher education, the last thing you need is another roadblock to success and another bill.
The situation also begs the question of why so many Southern Arizona high school graduates place in remedial math, reading and/or writing and why so many of them don’t succeed in college after they take remedial classes. By citing the dismal 5 percent success rate as a reason not to offer open enrollment and remedial classes, Pima’s governing board is dismissing lower-level students as deficient and not worth the investment– rather than turning the cold eye of evaluation on their high school education, the AIMES test (which attests to the students’ preparedness for college and life), or the remedial classes themselves.
Also, writing in the Arizona Daily Star, Greg Hart, former head of adult education at Pima College, claims that Pima has known for a decade that their remedial classes are not serving the students but has refused to address the problem until now. Hart has a point. If only 5 percent of the students who take remedial classes succeed in college, those classes (which are supposed to bring students up to college level proficiency) are not working for the vast majority of students.
Why is Pima proposing to eliminate open enrollment and remedial education now? Money. You’ll remember that Arizona’s “Education Governor” Jan Brewer authorized a budget that slashed funding for all public education earlier this year. Community colleges– long an affordable bastion of equal opportunity– were hit particularly hard by Legislative budget cuts. With the new entrance procedures and the elimination of remedial classes, Pima will cut approximately 200 adjunct professor positions.
Several former PCC faculty, including some of the founders, have voiced strong opposition to the proposed elimination of open enrollment.
…a 1980 review of the “Pima College Story” reported that the college “wanted education to be within the reach of all adults who desired it, whether they had a high school diploma or not, whether they were 18 or 78.” Even more recently, a former administrator wrote that “I very strongly endorse the support of maintaining the open admissions policy at Pima Community College. That is why we always endorsed the phrase ‘community colleges democratized higher education for all those who wished to pursue post-secondary education.’ That is why community colleges have always been so successful. As we all know, our success is embodied in the open admissions policy.”
Hundreds of column inches have been devoted to saving, changing, or eliminating Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). These classes, which affect 500-700 students per year, have been touted as a pathway to future success in college and in life. Elimination of open enrollment at Pima will close the doors of opportunity to thousands of students per year; minority and low-income students will be hit the hardest. Unfortunately, little attention has been given to PCC’s plans.
If you want to learn more about the elimination of open enrollment and/or want to voice your opinion, there are two public forums this week.
Today, Wednesday, September 14, City Council Members Regina Romero, Richard Fimbres, and Karin Ulich are sponsoring a forum at 6 p.m. in the Sunnyside High School auditorium, 1725 E. Bilby Rd. (Campbell Avenue/Bilby Road).
On Saturday, September 17, at 10 a.m., Pima College will be holding a public forum in the PCC West Campus Cafeteria, 2202 W. Anklam Rd. (Anklam/Greasewood, from St. Mary’s/Silverbell, go one mile west).
Arizona needs an educated work force. Our schools should be strengthened– not weaken. Opportunity should be broadened– not narrowed. Our K-12 schools, community colleges and universities should be re-tooled to meet the needs of the students and the society as a whole– not closed.
Pima Community College shouldn’t turn its back on lower-level students; it should help them succeed.