The Arizona Board of Regents on Thursday attempted to snuff the statewide debate over letting community colleges offer four-year degrees.
The 10-member board unanimously backed a compromise between the universities and the community colleges that gives Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University priority on offering new baccalaureate programs.
Regent Ernest Calderón of Phoenix led the joint commission that wrote the agreement — an attempt to stave off an effort by Rep. Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe, to let community colleges offer baccalaureates.
Knaperek led a similar bill last year, but it failed. The universities have fought the idea, arguing that they would end up sharing state funds with the community colleges. Also, the proposal would have forced them to compete with community colleges for students.
Calderón said Thursday that the compromise is a much better way to settle the issue, rather than through a solution “mandated to us by the Legislature.”
The Arizona Community College Association, representing the state’s 10 community college districts, approved the deal last week.
Kathy Boyle, executive director of the association, said she isn’t sure the accord will halt any legislative efforts to let community colleges expand into baccalaureate degrees. However, she said, it has paved the way for future collaborations between community colleges and universities.
The agreement supported by the regents was hashed out in meetings last year between four community college representatives and four university officials.
Under the new accord, if a community college proposes a new four-year program and proves there is a need for it, the universities will decide first whether they can start such a program. The community college will get the green light only if the universities can’t offer it.
In addition, the new agreement lists conditions that must be met if a community college wants to become a four-year institution: The colleges must win support from their governing boards, be able to earn accreditation, and have the campus resources to start a fouryear program. Also, the agreement says that students in the area by the college must have limited access to the universities.
Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher has been a major supporter of the idea. Enrollment at the small college, a few miles from Safford in Graham County, has been shrinking over the years. In fall 2004, it had 3,732 students — nearly 2,300 fewer than in fall 1999.
Mark Bryce, president of the college, said becoming a state institution “would increase enrollment.” But, he said, “The primary reason (for the change) is to allow people who are place-bound, who cannot go to Phoenix or Tempe, to get a degree in a rural area.”
Despite the colleges’ agreement, Knaperek, chairwoman of the House Higher Education Committee, and her Senate cohort, Linda Gray, R-Glendale, have promised a bill to grant community colleges the right to offer four-year degree programs in fire fighting, law enforcement, nursing and teaching — areas that have worker shortages. Knaperek also has said she wants to help community colleges become state colleges.