With all the controversy surrounding Gila Community College the last few years, the current debate over lifelong learning courses vs. academic classes is almost refreshing.
It allows us, for a moment at least, to look at the big picture rather than the political infighting between two communities (Payson and Globe) that have never had much use for one another in the first place.
The debate, as elaborated in a recent front-page article in the Roundup, is whether GCC is offering too many senior scholarships to take classes like Creative Writing, Beginning Watercolor, Single Again and Coping With Stress at the expense of "academic" offerings like chemistry and calculus. While this sounds like a local issue, it really isn't.
The first community colleges were founded over a century ago, but it wasn't until the 1960s that a national network of community colleges was in place. Today, counting branch campuses, there are about 1,600 community colleges in the United States educating more than half the nation's undergraduates.
What is unique about community colleges is their emphasis on "community." Their mission includes being a cultural bastion for the individual communities they serve, and, just as important, providing affordable higher educational opportunities for all.
Today's community colleges have become centers of educational opportunity open to all seekers. "They pride themselves on providing educational marketplaces where student choices and community needs influence course offerings," according to the American Association of Community Colleges.
Here in Payson, we are, perhaps first and foremost, a retirement community. The law of supply and demand, as well as the principle that community needs should influence course offerings, dictate that GCC, our local community college, offer a wide range of courses for seniors.
That it provides these courses free of charge to residents 55 and older is something to be thankful for, not to criticize. How many seniors on fixed incomes would otherwise be able to take a beginning computer course or a sign language course?
We live in an age of information when lifelong learning is no longer a luxury, but a near necessity. To deprive the members of such a large segment of our community of the opportunity to enrich themselves at their local community college would be a serious miscarriage of the principle of equality upon which this country was founded.
Of course, providing academic opportunities for our young people is a critical function of GCC as well. But again, supply and demand is and should be the determinant. If enough young people choose to avail themselves of the opportunity to begin their higher education at EAC, the college will offer the courses they need.
"Community needs influence course offerings." If GCC didn't adhere to this precept, it wouldn't be able to keep its doors open.