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Arizona Senate panel rejects bill to let community colleges offer 4-year degrees

Arizona Senate panel rejects bill to let community colleges offer 4-year degrees

  • Updated

Pima Community College’s Northwest campus.

PHOENIX — Arizona’s community colleges won’t be offering four-year degrees.

On a 6-3 vote Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee quashed legislation that would have allowed these colleges to start offering baccalaureate degrees. The vote came despite the same measure having gained bipartisan House approval last month on a 42-18 vote.

Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, the bill’s prime sponsor, argued that the current system requires rural students who want four-year degrees to leave their homes. That not only affects families, she said, but undermines efforts to promote local economic development.

Nutt said House Bill 2790 would not force any community college to expand its reach. But she said many 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.

Larry Penley, president of the Arizona Board of Regents, told lawmakers there is no real need. He said the state’s universities already have working relationships with community colleges around the state, partnering in ways to offer four-year degrees. There is reduced tuition for university courses that are taught on community college campuses, he said.

But Keith Alexander, assistant to the president of Eastern Arizona College, said much of what’s taught is by computer links. He said that’s no substitute for having faculty on campus.

There are gaps in the kinds of degrees available in his rural community, Alexander said.

“We have jobs that are not filled there, the majority of those requiring bachelor’s degrees,” he said. “And there aren’t people there to fill them.”

No legislators who voted against the proposal disputed there may be needs, particularly in rural areas, for additional paths to a four-year degree.

Their concern was the breadth of the legislation, opening the door — without restriction — to community colleges being able to offer any degree they want.

“Just simply opening the gates ... creating a Dodge City atmosphere where you could have multiple nursing programs, multiple accredited programs, you could have all kinds of unhealthy competition,” said Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix.

“This has to be put together thoughtfully, carefully,” perhaps with more study and a pilot program, she said.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said he looks at it from the perspective of students.

“This helps out low-income families,” he said, saying degrees at community colleges would likely cost far less than universities charge.

Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, said not every community college wants the authority. She suggested the issue needs more study.

That did not go down well with Sen. Rick Gray, R-Sun City.

“It’s been talked at for decades now, decades!” he said.

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