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Arizona Higher Ed System

Arizona Higher Ed System
Making Push to Offer Community College Baccalaureates

After holding public hearings across the state, legislators are again taking up proposals to significantly reshuffle Arizona’s higher education system, apparently starting with a controversial proposal to allow at least some community colleges to offer four-year degrees.

A legislator who led an unsuccessful push for four-year degree authority for community colleges during the 2005 session says she’ll reintroduce a version of the proposal early in the 2006 session, which started last month.

Rep. Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe, commented after the final meeting of a House-Senate task force that held 14 hearings around Arizona in recent months to foster discussion on higher education concerns.

At the conclusion of its three-hour meeting, the committee agreed only that lawmakers should continue to study numerous aspects of higher education, including how to improve financial aid and whether the state board of regents should oversee community colleges as well as universities.

However, Knaperek says it’s clear to many legislators that geographical and cost factors make availability and affordability of higher education a major problem to many Arizonans, particularly those living in rural areas distant from the main university campuses in Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff.

“We need to have more options of everything,” she says.

But even some lawmakers on the task force aren’t in agreement on sweeping, far-ranging changes.

“This is macro, macro,” says Rep. Ted Downing, D-Tucson, of Knaperek’s approach. “I prefer little baby steps.”

University officials voiced strong reservations about the four-year degree proposal which lawmakers considered earlier this year, and the universities’ supporters succeeded in halting that bill’s progress, partly by arguing that it would reduce the universities’ own efforts to serve locations other than their main campuses.

University representatives didn’t stake out any firm positions on possible 2006 legislation. Instead, they told the task force that they’re trying to serve more parts of the state and using tuition revenue to help students by adding counselors and increasing financial aid.

More overt concerns were voiced on behalf of private institutions of higher education.

Allowing community colleges to provide four-year degrees would burden the community colleges while diluting their mission, says Don Isaacson, a lobbyist for private institutions such as the University of Phoenix. “There are other alternatives that we believe the state should take advantage of.”

Community college officials say they see a need for changes to improve the quality of life and economic well-being of their areas.

Dr. Thomas Henry, Mohave Community College president, says his college doesn’t want to offer four-year degrees now but eventually will because of the school’s booming population.

Knaperek’s 2005 bill, which died in the Senate after being passed by the House, would have allowed some community colleges to offer four-year degrees in law enforcement, teacher education, health professions, fire services and any other academic subject in which a university doesn’t provide a bachelor’s degree. Eastern Arizona College would have been exempted from the degree-subject limits and would have been allowed to become a four-year liberal arts college.

The 2005 bill originally would have applied to all community colleges, but its scope was limited as Knaperek and other supporters made changes in an effort to win support.

Knaperek says the 2006 version will be similar but that details will be worked out before the bill is offered early in the regular session.

Associated Press

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