A Tale Of Slave Revolts And Tuition Waivers

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Slave revolts are a messy business. So, it’s pretty disorienting these days, watching the Gila Community College Board do business.

The college, so vital to the region’s future, remains in thrall to the distant administrators of Eastern Arizona College. GCC has to contract with EAC to run the place simply because the local college formed too late to get in on a special deal to help rural colleges. So now, GCC must contract for its administration with EAC and pay a 25 percent charge for the privilege — even though EAC gets about 20 times as much state funding per student as we do.

What makes the arrangement especially galling is the indifferent service local taxpayers and the locally elected board gets for those lopsided payments.

Consider the two most recent head scratchers.

First off, despite continued furloughs for college workers, the budget documents for next year provided by EAC to the baffled local board seem to show a raise for 10 GCC administrators. When two dissident Northern Gila County board members brought the document to the board’s attention, no one could explain it. So the board must meekly ask the All Powerful Bookkeepers in Safford to explain it.

The second example is actually more significant.

Last year, EAC administrators insisted that the GCC Board drop the tuition waivers for people over 55 as a budget balancing measure. The board complied — and has been struggling in vain ever since to figure out the consequences. At one point, it looked like the district lost more money on the resulting enrollment decline than it collected from seniors who paid tuition.

Now, it’s not clear.

No surprise there.

The latest numbers suggest that enrollment actually declined about 9 percent with most of the decline concentrated among senior citizens.

So this week, the board debated whether to restore the waivers to anyone older than 60.

On the whole, we think it’s a good idea and so for once we agree with the board majority.

Granted, it would make more sense to dramatically lower costs for people struggling to complete their education and retool their careers. Community colleges play a unique and vital role in this country’s economy. People who earn an AA degree make an average of $7,200 more annually than people with just a high school degree, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. That means state and local governments collect $1.16 in taxes for every dollar they spend on community college.

Moreover, community colleges provide vital training for 59 percent of all nurses and 80 percent of all firefighters, EMTs and police officers.

So community colleges continue to play a vital role in the economic health of the nation, even as tuition increases and faltering public support make them less affordable.

In fact, we wish policy makers had the good sense to eliminate or dramatically reduce tuition for all community college students. Perhaps they could rebate the tuition for any class in which the student earned a B or better.

Of course, that’s not going to happen — especially not in these woeful times.

In the meantime, free enrichment classes offer a wonderful benefit to the retirees so vital to this community — after the lifetime they have spent taking care of others.

Moreover, the 9 percent drop in enrollment dealt the college a setback at a vital moment. The district is building a case for independence and playing an ever-larger role in the cultural and economic life of this community. The steady increase in enrollment and the bridges built to such a vital block of voters remain essential to the future of the college and therefore our town.

Of course, we also understand the votes that two board members cast against partially restoring the waivers. Tom Loeffler and Larry Stephenson have led the slave revolt with diligence and intelligence for months now — trying desperately to help the college throw off its chains.

They both said they would not vote for a tuition waiver for seniors until EAC provided much better information about the budget and tuition rates. And they’re right: EAC does not provide the GCC Board with the information it needs to make good decisions. Still, in this case we agree with Chairman Bob Ashford, who said the priority for the moment lies in getting enrollment back up.

But, like we said: Slave revolts are messy business.

Sometimes all you can really do is rattle your chains.

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