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PC Awarded Multi-Million-Dollar Grant to Support Work-Based Experiences and Equity-Minded Practices

Phoenix College (PC) has been awarded $2,964,968 by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to accomplish bold, systemic improvements over the next five years to significantly increase student retention, completion, and grow the number of students who transfer to universities. The funds will be used to build the institution’s capacity to deliver enhanced student and academic services, evidence-based strategic planning, and transformative equity-minded practices. As a Hispanic-Serving Institution with a Hispanic enrollment of 54 percent and an urban community college with 80 percent low-income and/or first-generation students, PC is steady in its commitment to provide viable academic and career pathways for students who often struggle academically with mathematics, English, and reading; as well as financial resources and support networks to mitigate inevitable challenges and obstacles. This funding will support PC on its quest to become a student-ready college by focusing on lasting cultural change. Implementing a research-informed process for initiating institutional change that will lead to equitable outcomes for students of color will engage the institution in much needed self-reflection about how our policies, practices, and procedures contribute to student outcomes.

“So many of our students face challenges beyond the academic environment,” said Phoenix College President Dr. Larry Johnson. “Just one of our strategic priorities is to bring into sharp focus the challenges and obstacles students face, thereby, meeting the students where they are on their journey and helping them conquer and rise above.”

The five-year project is designed to close achievement gaps for at-risk and non-traditional students as well as contribute to PC’s growth and self-sufficiency as it embarks on its second century of service to the community. A central feature of the new grant is to systematically cultivate and offer Work-Based Experiences (WBEs) for the majority of PC students. PC’s strategic plan includes a goal to increase the number of students and faculty that participate in Work-Based experiences by 10 percent annually. In fact, PC envisions a time in the near future that is broader than this strategic goal, “Our vision is that all students will have access to and participate in at least one Work-Based Experience while attending PC,” said Nichole Spencer, STEAM Coordinator at PC. “We will be able to work with current and new industry partners to increase WBE opportunities for students, as well as determine industry/employer needs and integrate those needs back into curriculum, programs and activities that support WBE.” According to Maria Reyes, Dean of Industry and Public Service this grant award is critical to provide the resources to expand the WBE’s team and efforts which can be found at “PC has laid an important foundation for the WBE efforts working with the Counseling Department Chairperson Roberto Villegas-Gold and Counseling faculty members to embed a culture of career development for all students. These resources will provide the next level of framework for WBE implementation college wide.”

A significant initiative in the project is to establish, in partnership with the University of Arizona, a Math, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) Transfer Prep program in Arizona. MESA establishes an on-campus peer community to reinforce and support academic achievement while providing academic assistance and transfer guidance. At participating community colleges, MESA students have been more likely to persist, transfer to a university, and earn a STEM-related bachelor’s degree than other under-represented students pursuing STEM studies at those colleges. “We are excited about this opportunity to support success for students traditionally underrepresented in the STEM fields through the MESA program,” said Frank Marfai, Mathematics faculty. “MESA is one of the oldest STEM programs in the nation, and was specifically founded with diversity, equity, and access in mind. It has had a track record of success in both student academic achievement and university transfer in the ten states it has been implemented. We will be the first community college in Arizona to have a MESA Transfer Prep and we are honored to have been selected.”

Complementing the WBE initiative and the MESA program is a set of academic and non-instructional support solutions that will enhance remote learning support, integrate reading and writing curriculum, and activate a comprehensive and holistic self-assessment of the institution’s capacity to delivery equity-minded practices through all student-facing programs and service areas and at all points along the student’s journey at PC. According to Jamie Martin, Faculty Director of Developmental Education at PC, “the demand for remote learning support was in place and has only increased over time. The current pandemic has magnified the need to provide layered support as well as opportunities for students to remain connected to the institution as well as each other.” Nontraditional students will particularly benefit from the synergy of these strategies. Regarding the enhancements to remote learning support, Sam Crandall, Instructional Services Manager at PC, said, “by providing individualized and integrated student support in the online environment, we will mitigate barriers to academic achievement, leading to higher completion rates and greater persistence.” 

The project will also support institution-wide training and professional development for faculty and staff to become proficient with data-driven practices so that institutional activities and outcomes are grounded in evidence and improvements are informed, replicable, and scalable. With this enhanced capacity for data literacy, the institution will be able to cultivate each department and program’s ability to generate data that helps the college make operational decisions, while also demonstrating how each person impacts student learning, success, and completion.

“I'm very proud of the faculty, staff, and administrators that put this competitive grant application together,” said Dr. Doug Berry, Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs. This award will allow us to improve the student experience at Phoenix College and provide a level of support to our students that will be critical to their academic success."

The project is funded by DOE’s Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program (Title V) and this is the fourth time PC has been awarded this grant since 2000. This new project builds upon gains PC has made through other, recent, multi-million dollar grants from both DOE and the National Science Foundation. These past projects have laid the foundation for undergraduate research-driven, work-based learning; initiated the institutional shift from a Hispanic-enrolling institution to a more fully Hispanic-serving institution; and produced significant outcomes in the development of open educational resources and significant student success in developmental education. As this funding announcement lands the week before PC prepares to celebrate its 100-year anniversary, it is clear that for PC and the community it serves, the best is truly yet to come.

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