Gila Community College’s plan to break away from Eastern Arizona College and gain independence would be “one of the most drastic errors we can make,” Supervisor Shirley Dawson said at Tuesday’s board meeting.
She feared that the attempt could put “young adults in the position of not knowing whether the college will even exist.”
Previously, when GCC switched for a brief time to Pima Community College from EAC, enrollment dropped.
The college’s president at the time, Barbara Ganz, has said that enrollment dropped because of uncertainty after the college suspended services for a brief period during the transition.
“GCC is the greatest bargain that we can be asking for in providing education to those that are unable to leave their community,” said Dawson, who graduated from EAC.
Dawson’s comments make it unlikely that the board will adopt any resolution supporting the college’s bid for independence, such as the one approved by the college’s board. No vote supporting the college was on the supervisors’ meeting agenda. Dawson’s remarks came during an open comment part of the meeting.
Task force leader Sen. Sylvia Allen has said that resolutions from elected officials in the county could help GCC’s bid for independence by demonstrating unity and support.
Supervisor Tommie Martin declined to comment.
Supervisor Mike Pastor, who sits on the task force, said that the bid for independence will take a long time.
“I’ve always thought that at some point it would be nice to be an independent college,” he said. “The process is not an easy fix.”
He said the ongoing discussions are worth having. “I think this is the first step in a journey.”
The task force has worked since the spring on the legislative, financial and strategic issues related to GCC’s quest for independence.
State thresholds for property values and populations prohibit the county from operating an independent college.
GCC now contracts with EAC to award diplomas. Critics say the contract wrests all power from the college board, which can’t hire or fire personnel and can’t add programs without EAC’s permission.
GCC also pays to EAC a 25 percent overhead fee on every expense from salaries to light bulbs.
Allen says she will introduce legislation in January to remove the thresholds. Even if lawmakers remove the thresholds, independence won’t come overnight.
County voters would have to approve the measure, and the college would then have to create essential departments such as bookkeeping and the registrar before applying for accreditation.
The accreditation process could take another decade.
However, without countywide support, the entire effort could languish, task force members have said.