The movement to gain independence for Gila Community College has taken a major step forward with the introduction of a bill in the Arizona Legislature that makes it possible for GCC to shed its “provisional” college shackles.
In addition, another bill introduced into the education committees in the House and Senate would make it possible for a provisional community college to qualify for federal work force development funding, a measure that could net GCC $300,000.
Sen. Sylvia Allen and Senate Education Chairman Rich Crandall (R-Mesa) sponsored the bills in the Senate while Fifth District freshman representatives Brenda Barton and Chester Crandell sponsored the bills in the House.
As an aside, Crandall and Barton also are co-sponsoring HB 2001, which would allow university and community college faculty members to carry concealed weapons on campus. The provision would apply to full-time faculty, but not adjuncts and teaching assistants.
Currently, GCC is one of two provisional community colleges in the state, which means it doesn’t control its own budget, have its own accreditation or qualify for the extra state support given to the other, existing rural community college districts in the state. Under current formulas, GCC would double its $6 million budget if it did qualify for that “equalization funding.”
Existing law makes it all but impossible for a provisional college to ever become independent.
SB 1213 would allow a provisional college to gain independence if it met certain conditions, which Allen tailored to GCC’s needs.
A provisional college would have to first operate for five years provisionally, have at least 900 full-time students and actively seek independent accreditation. Either the governing board or a member of the public could request a hearing on moving from provisional to independent status.
The legislation also includes a provision that would require the provisional college to have a contract with an existing community college district to provide credential and oversight during the 5 to 10 years it would take to get its own credential. During that period, the provisional college would not get equalization funding.
Currently, GCC contracts for its credential, staffing, administration and other services with Eastern Arizona College. GCC pays a 25 percent overhead fee to EAC under the terms of the contract on everything it spends and EAC administrators make most of the key decisions on budget, programs and tuition.
Interestingly, the bill would require GCC to contract with another community college during the long effort to earn its own accreditation.
The bill doesn’t open the door to a contract with a university. Some advocates had hoped the bill would include such a provision, which would make it possible for GCC and Arizona State University to strike a deal in the event that ASU decides to build a college campus in Payson right across the highway from GCC.
The bill seems poised to move quickly through the Senate, since it’s co-sponsored by the head of the education committee and Allen holds the No. 2 position in the upper house.
SB 1213 won’t provide any financial boost to the still fast-growing college in the short term. Allen deliberately kept GCC out of the equalization pool initially, to avoid provoking opposition in the cash-strapped Legislature.
In fact, Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposed budget for 2012 includes a daunting 65 percent reduction in state, per-student support for community colleges, which will likely cause major financial problems for colleges statewide in the upcoming budget year.
However, the second bill — SB 1217 — could provide some more immediate help for GCC by allowing it to apply for a share of federal work force development money — which would support job training and vocational programs.
Currently, GCC operates training programs for nurses, firefighters and police officers —together with a small business incubator center.