Gila Community College Payson Campus
Photo by Andy Towle.
Sorry, guys, you just ain’t a real college.
That’s the latest face-slap delivered by the Arizona Community College Presidents Council, whose members have lobbied consistently to make sure Gila Community College doesn’t get its fair share of state funding.
Chairman Michael Kearns administered the latest slap down in a politely phrased letter rejecting the Gila Community College Board’s request for membership in the group, which lobbies on behalf of community colleges statewide.
GCC remains the state’s only provisional community college, a second-class category created when the Legislature made it virtually impossible to form a new community college district as a way to limit state funding for local colleges.
As a result of its provisional status, Gila Community College has to contract with an existing, accredited community college system in order to offer classes that count toward a degree accepted by the universities. GCC contracts with Eastern Arizona College (EAC) for its credential and pays a 25 percent surcharge to EAC on virtually everything it spends.
The GCC board has complained in the past that the EAC contract gives it little effective control over its budget, which comes mostly from local property taxes and tuition payments. EAC has recently started providing monthly financial statements in a different and more understandable format at the request of the GCC board.
As a result of its provisional status, GCC gets only a fraction of the state support that goes to other community college districts. For instance, EAC in Safford has an enrollment of 5,344 and gets about $4.2 million in basic state aid and another $17 million in “equalization funding,” money intended to provide extra help for property-tax-poor rural districts. By contrast, GCC has an enrollment of about 2,000 and gets a total of $400,000 in state aid.
The Legislature last year did finally provide a way for GCC to eventually gain its independence, although the process may take several years and prove initially costly. Other community college districts lobbied effectively against GCC’s effort to hammer loose its shackles. As a result of the intervention of other colleges, GCC only got about half as much money as everyone else for vocational training. In addition, even if it achieves independence, GCC cannot get money from the equalization fund that helps other rural districts.
The GCC board recently authorized President Larry Stephenson to seek representation on the Arizona Community College Presidents Council, in an effort to protect local taxpayers and students when it comes to any future changes in funding for community colleges.
The Arizona Legislature has drastically cut state help for community colleges and each year debates even more dramatic changes in funding formulas. That includes one plan that links funding to outcomes — like graduation rates. But GCC relies heavily for its enrollment on retirees taking enrichment classes, who don’t need a degree.
However, Kearns rejected the GCC board’s request, reasoning that EAC could represent Gila County’s interests in the organization.
“The consensus of the council is that Gila CC is already represented at the table by your president (of EAC) Mark Bryce. Therefore a request for individual membership for Gila CC is denied.