Gila Community College President Barbara Ganz has an ambitious vision for her school.
"I want to be a first-choice institution," she said. "A college students will look to as a prime choice for their education."
For Rim country students, that would mean they would no longer be forced to leave Payson to earn an associate's degree, acquire transferable credits or enroll in technical job training.
Currently, GCC must contract with other community college districts to issue degrees, certificates or diplomas.
Another one of her goals is for GCC to be able to supervise and hire full-time faculty members, evaluate programs and provide work force development programs.
"Being able to do all those things would help us meet the needs of the students," she said.
According to the college governing board chairman Peter Kettner, a retired Arizona State University professor, a viable local college also would be an economic boost.
"In rural areas, businesses often make their selection of a (business site) on the availability of a college," he said. "For every dollar spent on education in Gila County, there is an economic multiplier that generates from $1.30 to $1.70 for local businesses."
Kettner predicts that in the next few years, the county's economic and educational health will hinge on the legislative decisions surrounding GCC.
For GCC is become a full-fledged school, a number of obstacles must be met.
The greatest hurdle is finding ways to convince a majority of state legislature and the governor that Gila County should receive its fair share of the funding needed for a full-service college.
According to Kettner, for the fiscal year 2005 the state allocated $143,615,000 to community college for operating aid, capital funding and equalization.
Because Gila Community College is considered provisional, and not a full-fledged college like Mesa or Eastern Arizona, the school did not receive any of those funds.
"Lobbying efforts were successful in getting a special appropriation of $325,000," Kettner said. "But that money doesn't begin to enable Gila County to provide the types of programs we need."
To address the problems GCC is facing, a planning committee made up of Gila County Legislative Liaison Steve Besich, Payson Regional Economic Director Scott Flake, Kettner and Ganz, recently met with Rep. Bill Konopnicki to uncover ways to find funding for GCC.
"(Konopnicki) will continue to accept our input and will work with us in an attempt to ensure Gila County gets fair and equitable treatment," Kettner said.
Speaker of the House Jake Flake and Senator Jack Brown also have been approached about supporting the GCC funding efforts.
The bottom line in acquiring the money for GCC, Kettner said, is to "let it be known that Gila County supports the community college" and the serious issues the school has faced in the past must be resolved.
If the problems are not remedied, GCC will probably never be able to provide the high-quality education programs local students both deserve and need.