Our View: After years of flexing political muscles to protect their exclusive domain, Arizona's three public universities are suddenly making a mad dash to launch new state colleges that would offer highly desirable four-year degrees at more affordable prices.
After years of flexing political muscles to protect their exclusive domain, Arizona's three public universities are suddenly making a mad dash to launch new state colleges that would offer highly desirable four-year degrees at more affordable prices.
As the Arizona Daily Star reported in Sunday's Tribune, the Arizona Board of Regents has embraced a concept that would open the floodgates to additional locations offering full-college degrees - at lower tuition rates - under the sponsorship of Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University. The regents say the fastest way to accomplish this during the state's current fiscal crisis would be for the three universities to form alliances with community colleges, which are currently restricted to offering only two-year degrees.
The sudden willingness of the regents, along with ASU and its counterparts, to move in this direction suggests the state's university system is finally bending to the criticism of its outlandish rising costs and the severe limits on physical access to degree programs.
For some time, various state lawmakers have sought to establish viable public alternatives by allowing community colleges to offer some four-degree degrees, or by converting an entire two-year campus into a stand-alone university.
The forces of tradition and loyalty to the existing universities kept thwarting such efforts. Then, as former Tribune Executive Editor Jim Ripley reported on these pages in March, there has been a new attempt quietly under way to switch Mesa Community College into a university, again with support from prominent state officials.
Perhaps this gambit finally convinced the three universities that such changes were inevitable, and they have jumped in the fray to offer more higher-education options while seeking to secure their own franchises.
We believe there's still real value in two-year college degrees. So there would be plenty to cheer about if ASU forms a partnership with MCC instead of the state creating another independent university.
But lawmakers and other skeptics should not relent in their scrutiny of what the regents are doing, or the universities could just as swiftly revert to their old, uncooperative attitudes.