Comment session held as part of accreditation renewal.

Pratt Community College cares about its students and is working hard to provide a quality education for its students as it deals with low funding.

That was the message a pair of peer reviewers for the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association heard during an evening meal and comment session with 22 members of the community at PCC Tuesday night.

Sandra Caldwell, associate vice president for planning and improvement for the Higher Learning Commission and Mark Gruwell, executive dean of instruction and development for the Higher Learning Commission, spent several days on the PCC campus talking with administrators, faculty, staff, students and patrons as part of their evaluation process to renew accreditation with the North Central association.

During an impromptu lunch meeting with random students pulled from the lunch line, the best meeting of the visit, the pair heard over and over the same thing, that PCC was extremely dedicated to what the students needed and that the college was committed to improvement and being innovative, Caldwell said.

"The students had a strong sense of community," Caldwell said.

Every student interviewed said they were confident with their education and ready to go on to their next step in life.

The college is also self-directed and is one of just 220 Academic Quality Improvement Program institutions in the country that continuously improves their programs. A lack of funding has forced PCC to make the most of what they have and be creative in solving problems, Caldwell said.

Gruwell said everyone at the college wears lots of hats and they wear those hats proudly.

Community members had a wide variety of comments about the college and how it had impacted their lives.

Pratt County Commissioner Elect Glenna Borho said the college had demonstrated adaptability in the community with their variety of programs.

Former PCC instructor Don Schwartz was a student at PCC, played football and every one of his credits transferred to Villanova. He later was a teacher and a recruiter for the college. He was enthusiastic about what the college was accomplishing with its students.

"I believed in the product," Schwartz said. "I believe in what the school does for young people. It would be sad if this school didn't exist. You can't put a dollar value on the education here."

Former PCC Board of Trustees member Ed Barrett said the college was very solid academically and that reports from colleges and universities where PCC students transferred said their GPAs were higher than students that had spent all four years at those institutions.

"PCC provides an excellent two years of education," Barrett said.

He also said that PCC, like other educational institutions, are boxed in because they are under funded and can't afford to hire where they are understaffed. They need to continue leading with their chin as they tackle new projects.

Sen. Ruth Teichman said when she started as a legislator she was very "green" but PCC President William Wojciechowski and the Board of Trustees helped her understand how the Legislature handles educational funding. Funding continues to be an uphill battle.

The dual credit courses at PCC help students earn college credit while still in high school while introducing them to college. Many college groups take part in community activities and make a positive impact on the children in the community, said Suzanne Patton, USD 382 superintendent.

Former Kansas Legislator Dennis McKinney said PCC needed to present itself better to the community because the community doesn't understand how much the college gives back economically. The college also was very good at identifying business needs and adopting programs to fill those needs.

Accountant and PCC Foundation Board member Frank Laubhan said reports indicate the college contributes from $35 million to $50 million to the community.

Laubhan said he was with a group that went to Topeka to get the Legislature to make changes in property taxes and PCC and Wojciechowski went to bat for the group and took a lot of heat.

Former PCC instructor Pat Gordon said it was a good work environment and the faculty had the same philosophy concerning students.

The nursing program has had a major impact on Pratt Regional Medical Center. From one third to one half of the nurses are PCC and they are "darn good nurses," said PRMC CEO Susan Page.

PCC Foundation Board member Carolyn Porter, whose relative William Barrett helped found PCC, said the college was a stepping-stone in education that was more necessary now than ever.

The group offered suggestions for programs the college could pursue including expanding the range of technology courses, crop consultants plus heating and air conditioning.

Those attending the evening meal-meeting were former PCC Trustee Ed Barrett, former PCC instructor and PCC Foundation Board member Marvin Proctor, former PCC instructor Pat Gordon, PCC Foundation Board member Don Blasi, former PCC instructor Don Schwartz, Rodney Lesh, Kay Lesh, Sen. Ruth Teichman, PCC Foundation Board member Carolyn Porter, USD 382 Superintendent Suzan Patton, PRMC CEO Susan Page, PCC Foundation Board member George Nusz, PCC Foundation Board member Frank Laubhan, First National Bank CEO Kelly Mason, County Commissioner elect Glenna Borho, contributor Carl Dudry, Ken Brown, former state Legislator Dennis McKinney and PCC Board of Trustees President and PCC Foundation Board member Ken Van Blaricum.