We view your recent editorial ("Supply, demand should dictate college courses") as misguided. Here's why:
1. The issue is not one of "supply and demand." Supply and demand are equalized by "price." When Eastern Arizona College (EAC) offers free tuition to people 55 and over (so-called "senior scholarships"), the price is zero, and demand is unlimited. The costs are picked up by Gila County and Arizona taxpayers.
2. When funding for higher education is scarce, resources should be spent where they are most needed. "Nice to have" must make way for "need to have." Isn't it better to provide courses and needed financial aid to a wide range of people, some of whom may have 20 or 30 years of their working lives ahead? EAC doesn't participate in the federal student loan program, but -- by virtue of its senior scholarship program -- it allocates much of our limited college space and resources to nonpaying seniors taking "recreational" courses. Why? To generate more FTSE (full-time student equivalents or "footsie") and therefore to get more state aid. What about supporting the area's chronic need for registered nurses, a police academy and various other vocational programs -- and for general education courses needed to get into the state's universities (which EAC trimmed by 35 percent at Payson campus)?
3. 40 percent of enrollment at the Payson campus is for "Wellness Center" classes -- primarily attended by seniors on "scholarships." This has hurt three local fitness center businesses (contrary to Arizona State law which bars colleges from competing directly with the private sector). Before this program opened, the Mogollon Health Alliance "MHAX-III" program, for rehabilitation of people with heart, orthopedic and other health issues, had approximately 95 participants, and MHA made scholarships available to those who needed financial assistance. Since the start of EAC's senior scholarships, a number have left the MHAX-III program for the college Wellness Center -- none of whom had previously sought financial aid from MHA. Nice to have, but not the best use of scarce educational resources.
4. EAC's Harry Swanson, dean of the Payson campus, recently told a local group that the college needs to expand, undoubtedly because of the greater emphasis on recreational courses attended largely by seniors. However, August enrollment data for the Payson campus' fall semester showed 47 percent of the classes had enrollments of 3 people or less and another 18 percent had only 4 to 7 students. Does it make sense for taxpayers to support senior scholarships for recreational classes and then rent added classroom space when 65 percent of the classes are so small?
5. These inefficient policies have helped EAC become Arizona's costliest provider in terms of state tax support per credit hour. EAC is currently costing the state 4.8 times the average for the state's community colleges. Do we have to pay the bill for this "footsie factory" approach to higher education?
We suggest EAC and the Roundup consider more realistic policies that serve 100 percent of Gila County, not just the 20 to 30 percent at, or approaching, retirement age.
Executive Committee of WakeUpCall -- Concerned Citizens for Gila County Political Reform:Don Crowley and Dan Haapala, acting co-chairmen; Jim Buettner, vice chairman; Judy Baker and Ron Christensen, members