Community college bill signed into law SanTan Sun News

Community college bill signed into law

May 11th, 2021 STSN Staff
Community college bill signed into law
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By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

Arizona’s community colleges are now on the path to awarding four-year degrees if they want.

Gov. Doug Ducey last week signed legislation to permit these local institutions to offer baccalaureate degrees without having to first enter into a joint program with one of the state’s three universities.

“Today’s action is school choice for higher education,’’ Ducey said. “It will allow students even more opportunities as they strengthen their education and expand their employment opportunities.’’

The governor’s action comes despite a last-ditch bid by Larry Penley, chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, urging him to reject the legislation.

“There is little evidence to support the need for a substantial change in Arizona higher education structure,’’ Penley said.

Penley also argued that the move is unnecessary, as the regents have four-year programs they operate in collaboration with community college.

Tuesday’s decision drew praise from Steven Gonzales, chancellor of the Maricopa Community Colleges, who said the aim is not to compete with the university system but to supplement it.

Gonzales said there are specific needs for things like more teachers and nurses than the university system is turning out and that these programs can be conducted at far less cost than the universities charge in tuition, all without raising local property taxes.

None of this will happen immediately.

The new law requires governing boards to determine whether to offer four-year degrees based on both the need, as determined by student demand and workforce gaps, as well as the financial requirements necessary to sustain the program.

Programs also have to be accredited by the same agencies that have purview over university programs.

And colleges are required to let state universities know of the programs they are developing.

But the statute also is clear: Universities have no veto power. And that was one of the things the Board of Regents wanted.

Lawmakers added some additional restrictions on the college systems in Pima and Maricopa counties.

For the first four years, no more than 5% percent of total degree and certification can be for four-year programs, a figure that rises to no more than 10 percent after that.

zGonzales, whose schools now charge $85 a credit hour, said he doesn’t see those cost limits as a problem.

Ducey said 23 other states have similar systems which allow community colleges to offer four-year degrees in certain circumstances.

Penley, in trying to convince the governor to veto the measure, said there is no need, saying enrollment in universities has doubled since 2002.

“What Arizona needs from community colleges, in addition to their technical certificates and degrees, are associate degrees that have a higher graduation rate,’’ he wrote, though he offered no specifics.

Gonzales said he does not see community colleges in direct competition with universities for students. He said the average age for students in his system is between 24 and 26.

“A typical 25- or 26-year-old, if he or she decides to go back to college or to start college, they are not likely to start at the university,’’ Gonzales said.

“They’re going to come to use because of that support we provide, the fact that we’ve got smaller campuses situated throughout the county, and the fact that we’re closer to them than some of the universities are.’’

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