Whew. Turns out increased tuition at Gila Community College’s didn’t squelch enrollment after all. Instead of doom, Payson Dean Pamela Butterfield told a tale of full parking lots, new classes and students excited to continue their educational careers.
We’re glad that the college continues to expand and happy the tuition increases didn’t dampen growth. Community colleges are so vital to towns like Payson — small, rural and lacking opportunities for young people.
But underneath the celebration lies the knowledge that the fight for independence continues. As the college grows larger, so will the need for independence.
The onslaught of recent high school graduates flooding GCC’s campus proves that despite imperfections, this community’s kids need the college. Despite the hefty tuition hike, taking classes at the community college still costs less than classes at a four-year school.
A lot of kids graduate from Payson High School and try attending one of the huge state schools, but find themselves lost in a sea where professors don’t know their names on campuses that have more residents than the entire town of Payson.
Those kids land back in Rim Country without an idea of what to do next. The more classes that Gila Community College offers, the more these students will can become productive citizens — without leaving Payson.
This January, the victor of the District 5 House race will likely introduce legislation to free GCC. That could lead to more state money down the road.
With more money, the Payson campus could offer more classes and start new programs like the cosmetology program that’s proven so wildly successful in Globe. The college could build new buildings to house the exploding population and offer more sections of popular classes.
Whether or not a four-year university comes to Payson, the need for a vibrant community college will remain.
Right now, the more GCC grows, the more Eastern Arizona College makes because of how the operating contract between the two schools works.
And so, while some may consider GCC’s success as proof that debates about the college’s leadership are irrelevant, we argue otherwise.
Issues of local control will grow alongside the college’s enrollment. Enrollment increases legitimacy, and with such a large number of students, the state will be hard-pressed to find excuses of why GCC can’t award diplomas on its own.
As costs of running the college increase, EAC’s share of the money will increase because it charges Gila County taxpayers a 25 percent overhead on expenses. That makes the current situation even more unsustainable and unfair. Gila County can spend Gila County’s money a lot better than Graham.
So celebrate this news — but take it as proof that GCC should be free.
Fighting fire with fire
Sometimes, you gotta go with the cliché.
For instance: Fight fire with fire.
The Forest Service is gearing up now for the fall season for controlled burns throughout Rim Country — especially in and among the slash piles accumulating on the outskirts of most forest communities.
Naturally enough, lots of people who have moved to the region for the pristine air object when smoke comes drifting into town — often aggravating breathing conditions.
But a study by researchers from the University of Arizona has offered yet another reason to hail those controlled burns rather than curse them.
Turns out, low-intensity controlled burns that burn up brush, saplings and downed wood but spare the big trees, inject into the atmosphere between 18 percent and 60 percent less carbon than uncontrolled wildfires.
The study suggested that the big difference lies in the survival of the big trees in such a low-intensity burn —since the biggest trees lock up huge amounts of carbon for centuries at a time. Uncontrolled wildfires consume everything in their path.
That’s good news for the planet — since the smoke from major wildfires interjects thousands of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
But it’s also good news for people struggling with all that smoke — since the controlled fires also contain much less soot, which pose the biggest health threat for people with impaired lung function.
Hopefully, the federal government will take note of the findings — and perhaps fund an urgently needed expansion of thinning and prescribed fires to protect communities like Pine, Strawberry, Payson and Star Valley.
In the meantime, the findings should make it a little easier to not mutter and curse the next time smoke from a controlled burn in the buffer zone protecting us all drifts into town.