Senate passes bill allowing community colleges to offer four-year degrees

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Eastern Arizona Courier Article by Brooke Curley

The Arizona state senate voted 24-6 Wednesday to permit community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees to students. Senate Bill 1453 now goes to the governor’s office for his approval.

It took decades of work for the bill to pass, with multiple past attempts failing to get this far.

If Gov. Doug Ducey signs off on the bill, colleges will need to prove they can hire the necessary faculty and sustain four-year programs. Also, the degrees will have to meet the needs of the community and not duplicate degrees found elsewhere in the state.

State Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, has been pushing for the bill’s passage for years on behalf of Eastern Arizona College.

Todd Haynie, Eastern Arizona College president, is excited about the potential for expanded opportunities.

“It’s been a long road for EAC and the community colleges,” he said.

The next steps for the college will be to determine what bachelor degrees are needed in the area. This is where the real work begins, Haynie said.

Although Haynie said the college doesn’t want to put the cart before the horse, the college hopes to communicate with the major employers within the community to see what degrees they’d like their employees to have. He predicts one could be a bachelor’s degree in applied science.

“These degrees could help the community members get a job or further them in the job they already have,” he said.

After the college has determined what degrees are of interest, the college would present them to the community college board for them to approve. After the degrees are approved, they will also need to be approved by the college’s accrediting committee, which could take some time.

“Should we find a program, it could take three years or maybe more before we could enroll EAC students in an EAC baccalaureate program,” he said.

Haynie said the expansion of the 102-year-old college has always been a community effort.

So many students say they love attending EAC and wish they could stay longer, he said. By providing baccalaureate programs, the college can give the students what they desire and increase enrollment.

Haynie expressed his gratitude to the legislature and Nutt for their efforts in supporting the bill and community colleges.

Vance Bryce, executive director of the Graham County Chamber of Commerce, said the bill will provide locals greater flexibility.

“The more educational opportunities in rural Arizona is always a good idea. More degrees, more learning about business and how business works makes us more efficient. It also makes us more professional and increases the bottom line,” Bryce said.

Heath Brown, Thatcher town manager, was pleased by the bill’s passage.

“The Town of Thatcher loves the idea, and is 100 percent supportive. I think it would be great for the community and the students and would be amazing for our area,” he said.

Ducey is likely to face a last-ditch effort by the Arizona Board of Regents which has for at least 40 years fought any effort to infringe on what it sees as its turf as the governing body of the state’s three universities.

Nutt has argued for years that the current system requires rural students who want four-year degree to leave their homes. That, she said, affect not only families but also undermines efforts to promote local economic development.

And Nutt said many community colleges already have buildings and other infrastructure in place that would allow them to start offering four-year degrees without new investment and without raising local taxes.

The regents, by contrast, have countered there is no real need.

Larry Penley, chairman of the board, has argued that the university already have working relationships with community colleges around the state, partnering in ways to offer four-year degrees. And he has told lawmakers there is reduced tuition for university courses that are taught on community college campuses.

Those objections hit home with some lawmakers.

Rosanna Gabaldon, D-Green Valley, said she sees this as duplicating existing efforts by universities to help community college students get a four-year degree. And that, she said, makes no sense financially.

“Arizona’s already underfunding our public education,’’ she said. “I believe this bill will make our community colleges and public universities compete for that same funding,’’ she said.

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.


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