Chancellor spends $20.5K+ on Spring travel


Illustration courtesy of the International Department

During the April 3 governors board meeting, Chancellor Lee Lambert made an announcement about his travels for Pima Community College.

“And then I know there was concerns about my travel,” he said. “So as a result, we’re going to enhance the current board’s travel policy. So we will be bringing an amendment to the board travel policy, just to provide a little more oversight and transparency.”

The amendment hasn’t been introduced yet, but it will modify Board Policy 4.06 and it includes: The chancellor will inform the board chair of the purpose or overall end goal for travel; following the trip, the chancellor will inform the governing board of the insight acquired from the trip itself; and lastly, the chancellor will at least provide an annual written report that summarizes travel and will be made available on the college website, according to Pima Community College spokeswoman Libby Howell said in an email. Howell said the amendment will debut at the May 3 board meeting. 

Lambert’s statements came after a Dec. 6 Aztec Press story detailing his multiple travels for the college.

Lambert said his travel is to help boost Pima’s enrollment, especially with international students.

So far, this semester Lambert has submitted expense reports totaling $20,510.26 for 15 trips, although the April 24-25 Minneapolis trip only has accounted for airfare and hotel. 

Administrators haven’t provided hard numbers on how the return on investment, or ROI, is calculated when it comes to determining if the costs for travel are worth it.

Ricardo Castro-Salazar, head of the international department at Pima, said that calculating ROI “is never that simple.” 

“In the end, all expenditures must yield revenues or benefits (new partnerships, enrollments, MOUs, contracts, better trained staff, brand awareness, etc.),” he said in an email. 

“Every fiscal year since its inception, not only has my unit made profits for the college, but also qualitative gains such as national and international recognition, growing reputation, and global relationships. We have major national and international awards to prove it,” he added.

“From another perspective, building a solid presence in a new market can take a long time and enrollments grow more substantially after two or three years. Thus, although we must follow trends in individual countries, we measure recruitment success in the aggregate and regionally, not in individual markets.”

At the start of every school year, Lambert provides a list of goals that is broken down into student success; engaging the community; cultivating institutional excellency; and strengthening the culture of compliance, 

The “engagement of community” goal includes establishing a task force to assess Pima’s readiness for the impact of mobile technology, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and the internet and make recommendations to promote innovation at Pima. The goal also includes Tucson’s job needs and engaging the governing board with key employment sectors every semester.

To help achieve these goals, Lambert and some Pima administrators frequently travel around the nation and sometimes world.

Travel must be “directly linked to the traveler’s role at PCC, and results in a net benefit to students or programs authorized by the college,” according to the International Travel Criteria and Application.

Domestic travel is preferred, but it’s not uncommon for administrators to travel abroad to gain insight on how to better the college as a whole. International travel only is permitted if the experience cannot be obtained or substituted for in the United States. 

If there’s an invitation to present at a conference or in a professional meeting outside of the United States, then it’s expected that the inviter will cover at least 50% of the overall cost to attend, and the traveler must provide evidence from the inviter of confirmation of the cost. 

For all Pima employees except Lambert, the next step is to gain pre-approval. Lambert currently does not need to get approval for his travels.

“At a minimum, approval by the supervisor, the chancellor, and, any relevant U.S. or state government agencies must be secured prior to any commitment of college resources, including employee time,” according to the International Travel Criteria and Application. 

Lambert said the main reason for international travel is to recruit international students. They act as ambassadors of their home countries, expose students to different cultures and pay 368% of regular tuition.    

In 1999, 787 international students were enrolled at Pima, making it among the top 20 community colleges in the nation, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Inattention to the department and the Sept. 11, attacks are cited as major reasons for international student enrollment at the college dropping. 

By the fall of 2014, that number dropped to 180 international students, according to a board of governors presentation. 

Lambert launched a major push in 2014 to revitalize the international department and increase the number of international students to 1,000. The original projection was to hit this goal by the 2017, with international students bringing $5 million in revenue, according to a board of governors presentation in 2014. 

This early target hasn’t been met. 

According to the Reportable Headcount by Castro-Salazar, the number has increased to 738 in 2017-18 from 512 in 2014-15. 

“The goal of enrolling 1,000 international students was an aspirational calculation by PCC administrators before an in-depth analysis and planning process were implemented,” Salazar said in a recent email.

However, numbers provided by Howell told a different story.

Howell provided international enrollment, headcount and full-time student equivalent numbers for Fall semesters from 2014 to 2018 to the Aztec Press in March. 

These numbers showed a dramatic decrease in international headcount from Fall 2017 to Fall 2018 — 345 to 267 students, or a 22.6% drop. 

According to Salazar’s numbers, Spring 2019 full-time student enrollment of international students grew over 10% compared to Spring 2018. He cited recruitment efforts and customer service. 

While it appears that much still needs to improve numbers wise, the investment has yielded several awards. In January, Pima won the 2019 Association of International Education Administrators Award for Innovation in Internationalization. Pima was the first community college to win this award.

Salazar traveled to San Francisco to pick up the award in January. The next month, he traveled to New York City to receive the GSA Seal of Excellence Award from the Institute of International Education. Salazar’s travel expenses were not calculated for this story.

Salazar said the outlook for international enrollment varies.

“We probably will get some short-term contracts with Chinese institutions as well as study abroad programs,” Salazar said. “We project that Saudi enrollments will grow strongly thanks to our strengthened relationship with the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission. Also, our Indian recruitment strategic focus on second- and third-tier cities has been very successful, so we … will invest further in that country.”   

International student tuition supports the Center for International Education and Global Engagement expenses and provides surplus revenues that go into the college’s general fund that exceed the relatively low amount of other international travel at the institution, Howell said. 

The only people who are allowed to travel on behalf of the Center for International Education and Global Engagement are Lambert and Castro-Salazar. 

In the issue of transparency at the April 3 Board of Governors meeting, Lambert suggested that board oversight for his travel be incorporated into Board Policy 4.06, which deals with the college’s travel. 

However, the only item that Board Policy 4.06 states is that the governing board delegates authority to the chancellor or designee to authorize procedures involved for travel for a district purpose. 

What it doesn’t mention is that the chancellor can approve his own travel and puts him in a position where he can allow or deny travel requests from anyone without anyone’s input. 

“But right now, Pima appears to be spending the precious resources it does have like a drunken sailor in a select few places, while making devastating cuts most everywhere else,” said Matej Boguzak, president of Pima Community College Education Association. “It does not add up.”


This Spring semester, the chancellor has taken 15 trips totaling $20,510.26. Lambert’s final trip to Minneapolis only has reported hotel and airfare so far:

Jan. 14 – State of the State/Opening of Legislative session – Phoenix ($108.14) 

Jan. 21-22 – Association of International education administrators conference- San Francisco ($1,180.76)

Jan. 24 – Arizona Community Colleges Coordinating Council – Tempe ($99.68) 

Jan. 20-Feb. 2 – American Association of Community Colleges Workforce Development Institute- San Diego ($2,134.34)

Feb. 9-14 – Association of Community College Trustees Legislative Summit – Washington, D.C. ($3,295.50)

Feb. 18 – Arizona Legislature, House Education Committee – Phoenix ($107.69) 

Feb. 21-22 – Achieve60 – Phoenix ($462.75) 

Feb. 23-26 – League for Innovation Conference – New York ($2,758.66)

Feb. 28 – Arizona Community Colleges Coordinating Council – Tempe ($460.46) 

March 7-9 – Lincoln Electric – Cleveland ($1,042.34) 

March 11 – AZ Legislature Senate Higher Education Workforce Development Committee – Phoenix ($109.03) 

March 22-26 – National Association of Workforce Boards Forum – Washington, D.C. ($3,071.16) 

April 5-9 HLC Annual Conference- Chicago ($1,969.67)  

April 11-16 – American Association of Community College Annual Conference – Orlando, FL ($3,020.45)

April 24-25 – National Coalition of Certification Centers Board of Directors Meeting – Minneapolis ($689.63)