Legislature balks at community college debate
Phoenix – In a series of hearings earlier this year around the state, members of the special task force on higher education heard two basic complaints. First is the question of how to get a four-year degree if you don't
happen to live close to one of the state's three universities. At a full committee meeting Thursday, Christy Farley, lobbyist for Northern Arizona University, said her school already is trying to address that. It has what it calls 2-plus-2 programs at
many community college campuses. She said more are in the works. But Thomas Henry, president of Mohave Community College, said that deals with only half the issue.
(Pricing. Pricing is everything. It costs more money to attend the university than the community college. And rightly so. It's a different animal. And I just want to say that in no way did I intend at all to offend NAU. It's a great university. It's a regional university. They do a great job. But they have limited resources. They're trying to hold together a university. So they do have to pull back. So it's a question of pricing and investment and accessibility.)
State Rep. Ted Downing said the issue of money is important. But he said lawmakers need to recongize that it is impossible to be all things to all people -- at least not in a financially responsible way. For
example, he said one person testified at one of those hearings around the state that he wanted to be able to get his bachelor's degree in drama at Eastern Arizona College in Safford.
(And we have people likewise that would like to get a bachelor's degree in anthropology at Northland Pioneer. So we've got aspirations of young people that have to be matched up with the fact of the realities of money. We just can't afford to deliver every degree in every place in every part of the state.)
Don Isaacson, who lobbies for the privately owned University of Phoenix and other for-profit schools also said lawmakers should not expand the role of community
colleges. He said there are ways to get a four-year degree on community college campuses, pointing not only to NAU's 2-plus-2 program but also current and planned programs by some of his clients to do the same. But that drew a cool response from Rep. Laura Knaperek, long a champion of four-year community colleges. She
suggested that few students whose degrees aren't being subsidized by their employers could afford to go to those private schools. Isaacson said that problem could
be solved if the state were to provide some financial aid to these students.
(I think going with a program of a million or five million, even at $1,500, is enough in combination with some other grants-in-aid and loans, to put a student
over the top. And I do think the private sector can have the capacity to take a big part of the population, with the state not paying for it fully, with the state
But Knaperek said she still intends to push legislation this coming session to open the door to at least some four-year degrees at community colleges. In Phoenix, for Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.