Jim never knew his dad. His mom spent half her time drunk. He stumbled through high school, got into drugs, made every mistake he could make — then met a good woman, cleaned up, had kids, turned his life around. Against all odds, he started taking classes at Gila Community College — where he discovered the joy of great ideas, his own gleaming intelligence and a knack for writing.
“Kim” never made plans, beyond getting married and having kids. But she married the wrong guy and love turned to drink which turned to blows. She escaped, with her kids and took a dead-end job to keep them all afloat. She can’t leave Payson, where she has family support and her kids have their friends. But she could enroll in the Gila Community College nursing program, where she’s working hard on a new life.
“Lizzy” lived a long and eventful life, full of love and loss. She often stumbled, sometimes fell — always climbed to her feet. She’s a trucker — or she was. She’s a great storyteller, a sucker for stray dogs, a loving mother, a wicked wit. And after all that, she wound up in Payson taking classes at Gila Community College. She found friends of a lifetime there and is writing her story.
Perhaps you wonder why we have spent so much time and effort writing about Gila Community College — including today’s special report by reporter Suzanne Jacobson.
In that report, she details the blatant injustice, the outlandish funding formulas, the strange management system that hobbles Gila Community College. She also examines the prospects for a solution to the college’s woes — the escape from its second-class citizen status to become a full-fledged college in charge of its own destiny.
The college remains vital to Rim Country and its residents. Repeated studies show community college graduates make on average 30 percent more over their careers than high school graduates.
Taxpayers reap a 16 percent return on every dollar they spend on community colleges. In Rim Country, not only does Gila Community College prop open the door to a college degree, but it helps firefighters, police officers and nurses master the skills on which we all depend.
It’s easy to get lost in the history and the bureaucracy and perhaps to wonder whether it matters.
But you wouldn’t wonder, if you knew Jim and Kim and Lizzy or so many of the hopeful students there who have resolved to chase dreams and force open doors.
That’s why we write about GCC. That’s why we hope you will carefully read the special report in today’s paper.
That’s why we hope you will get involved and insist that taxpayers and students in Gila County get a fair deal instead of a rip off.