The history of post-secondary and higher education services in Gila County has been quite varied, with most services designed and provided under contracts with outside community college providers. Such outsourcing has been necessary because Arizona law only permits counties to have their own community college districts if they meet certain minimums of population and assessed valuation. With some 95 percent of Gila County off-limits to private ownership, our assessed valuation has not met those minimums, despite the sizable growth in county population.
A variety of different classes and related activities have been scheduled by these outside providers over the years. These higher education services have not only varied, but have frequently reflected differences between the perceived needs at opposite ends of the Gila County.
Thanks to the work of Mr. Doyle Coffey and a number of other citizens of Rim Country devoted to quality post-secondary education, Payson has been blessed with an attractive college campus and an extensive parcel of land available for future expansion.
Another important advance was achieved in 2002, when the voters of Gila County approved the creation of the Gila County Provisional Community College District and the necessary tax levies to support it, under the newly-passed Arizona legislation approving such districts.
However, the provisional community college legislation came with substantial strings attached: 1. It still requires contracting with an outside provider; 2. It does not provide state funding formulas equal to those financing regular community colleges; and 3. The legislation is scheduled to "sunset" in 2009.
Through this time span, there has been no in-depth survey of Gila County's potential "users" of higher education to determine what services they need and want. Given the present situation and particularly the future uncertainties and possible opportunities given Payson's sizable campus site, it seems especially timely to commence such a survey -- both for current and future use -- in Northern Gila County.
The Northern Gila County Higher Education Needs Assessment ("HENA" for short) has been in the planning and formation stages since late spring and is now moving into full swing, with the help of many people and groups in our local community.
What is HENA?
It is a communitywide study under Arizona Public Service's Focus Future program, soliciting participation and opinions from a wide spectrum of Rim Country's distinct population groups. Joining Focus Future in this endeavor are both members of the Gila Community College Board of Governors representing Rim Country -- Dr. Larry Stephenson and Mr. Don Crowley.
They believe that the results of this Assessment can significantly benefit the Payson campus of Gila Community College by clearly establishing the higher education priorities of the community.
Why should we do a Higher Education Needs Assessment?
- Historically, there have been significant differences perceived between Northern and Southern Gila County in terms of higher education needs and resource allocations. By establishing what the higher education needs and desires are in Northern Gila County, HENA seeks to clarify what, if any, differences truly exist and how they can be best met.
- The focus will be on both near-term needs, but also will give consideration to longer-term opportunities to build out the college's 53-acre site in a manner that best serves our community.
- To achieve this, we have established separate Task Forces to survey six primary sectors of our community:
1. Payson Unified School District representing students, parents, faculty and administrators.
2. The Business Community and work force training needs, building on the work already done by Dr. Barbara Ganz under the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation.
3. Career development for adult learners comprising Rim Country's work force.
4. Seniors, retirees and lifelong learners in our population.
5. The general educational needs and desires of the Tonto Apache Tribe.
6. And, finally, a survey of the Arts and Cultural Community, with particular emphasis on the venues and services available for these activities.
What is the time frame for this project?
- Preliminary planning has been underway for some time, but all Task Forces are commencing work during the month of September.
- We hope to conclude the major work on the project by January or before, with Task Force reports in hand representing the various constituencies, participants and survey respondents.
This project's success will depend upon the active participation of people from the various segments of our community.
People interested in participating may call (928) 472-7001.