Funding For Senior Scholars Questioned

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Courses offered in Arizona's community college system may be taken to pursue a career, such as becoming a psychiatrist, or simply for lifelong learning.

"Courses offered for credit shall satisfy at least one of the following purposes and requirements: Provide continuing education and lifelong learning," Arizona Revised Statutes 15-1410 A. (f) states.

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Gila Community College board members Larry Stephenson and Dick Wolfe at the last board of governors meeting. The next meeting is at 9 a.m., Oct. 13 is expected be the last one held in 2005.

But some lifelong learning classes such as Single Again, Coping with Stress and Approaching Math Positively have been categorized by the Arizona Tax Research Association as "recreational."

"The state's taxpayers have an interest in providing funding to community colleges for academic and technological training," ATRA said. "However, taxpayers can and should question what the state is paying for when credit is awarded for a course and thus is funded at the state level."

Who should pay for lifelong learning classes is a source of debate between legislators and their constituents.

"This is a two-way sword kind of a piece," said Bill Konopnicki to a citizen at an Oct. 3 town hall meeting held at Gila Community College. Konopnicki said that recreational versus academic courses would be looked at by the legislature as part of higher education redesign.

If 10 or 15 people want to be able to take a class, they ought to be able to take it, he said, but the concept is abused.

"We have had some colleges go overboard in terms of what people call recreational classes and have built (up) their amount of money coming in to that," Konopnicki said.

"One of the things we made very clear to this community college is that this legislature wanted to have recreational classes funded locally and funded by the citizens who are taking the classes. I personally agree with that, but that met with quite an uproar from people who say that, ‘I've educated all my children, I've educated all my grandchildren and I'm paying for everybody else's children. I want to go down and take a class, and I ought to have a right to do that.' That's probably true too."

Locally, the reopening of the Wellness Center on the Payson college campus has impacted the MHAX 3 senior workout program, said director of Mogollon Health Alliance Judy Baker. The program has been offered since 1998 by MHA. Enrollees bring their doctor's prescription for the class at the Payson Athletic Club.

Enrollment is down because seniors can take physical conditioning on scholarship at Gila Community College. She believes the college may have some liability issues down the road for accepting the prescriptions.

Course offerings with free tuition to any resident of Arizona over 55 (whether needed or not) are paid by Gila County tax dollars.

"To obtain the scholarship, just register for classes," reads the Fall 2005 Gila Community College class schedule. "Based on your date of birth in the College's records, the scholarship will be awarded automatically."

Eastern Arizona College Senior Dean Margo Bracamonte said senior scholarships, as a percentage of total full time student equivalent (FTSE) enrollment, is 44.6 percent on the Payson campus for fall 2005. This figure is based on a total FTSE enrollment of 177.

In 2001, the last year Gila contracted with EAC, that percentage was 42.1.

"Gila Community College sees itself as a center of learning that is the pride of the community; a college that holds itself to the highest ethical standards and is goal driven," according to the college's vision statement as it appears on its Web site, www.gilaccc.org.

But many believe that the academic courses needed by young people to go on to the next level of education are not being provided by this campus.

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