Students at Gila Community College can soon take advantage of a new program to earn a four-year degree without leaving Payson.
In addition, the GCC board last week also agreed to work actively to partner with universities to establish programs that will enable its students to transfer smoothly to a four-year university — especially if a university builds a campus in Payson.
The most immediate path for Payson students to get a four-year degree with most of the work completed here arose from a deal struck last year between Arizona State University and Eastern Arizona College. The program will enable students to earn a limited number of four-year degrees on EAC’s Safford campus through a combination of Internet classes and adjuncts certified by ASU.
The degrees will include two nursing degrees and a business degree initially, with added programs in elementary education and mining management added next year.
Initially, ASU officials said that Gila Community College could only take advantage of the program if they took classes on the Safford campus.
However, ASU has now agreed to work out credit for classes taught on GCC’s campuses as well, providing the instructors meet the university’s requirements. In addition, GCC students should be able to take Internet, distance-learning classes to augment whatever classes GCC can pull together.
GCC Senior Dean Stephen Cullen said students can finish their second two years for a degree at either the Payson or Globe campus for an annual tuition of about $2,700, compared to about $9,300 to take the same classes on ASU’s Tempe campus. He reported the new opportunities at board meeting last week.
Cullen said he met with ASU officials to extend the program to GCC, since EAC provides the credentialing and staffing for GCC, which is a provisional college.
“The answer was yes: We could tie in with the Internet or if we have a certified instructor, we can offer the classes.”
The program should provide an immediate boost to GCC’s nursing program, now the mainstay of its vocational offerings.
But it could expand, by taking advantage of the chance for students here to participate in classes in Tempe or elsewhere through distance learning. “I look for this to transcend into Web-based applications,” said Cullen.
“It will offer a huge savings to students,” he added.
Cullen said administrators would have to review the curriculum and perhaps recruit new adjunct instructors to bolster its offerings and take advantage of the opportunity.
He also noted that the instructors for the upper division courses would likely get paid at the going rate for ASU adjuncts, which is two or three times as much as GCC generally pays its instructors.
“This is a start. We will be able to use this. I’m very excited about this. ASU is being very aggressive in making this program available,” said Cullen.
“I agree,” said GCC Board President Larry Stephenson. “It’s exciting our students can avail themselves of this.”
Meanwhile, the board also agreed to move forward on seeking additional university partnerships, especially with whatever university the Rim Country Educational Alliance lures to Rim Country.
The board members said they hope to strike up a partnership so community college students can get early academic advice and a virtual guarantee that all the courses they take at GCC will eventually transfer toward a four-year university degree.
Previously, many students have faced the frustration of a belated discovery that various classes didn’t count toward a university degree — which sometimes caused them to waste a year of tuition and effort by the time they got their transcript straightened out.
ASU and other universities have worked out agreements with community colleges elsewhere in the state to smooth that transition. Sometimes, that just involves early advisement to steer community college students into the right courses. Sometimes, it involves certification by the university of community college courses so a student can complete three or the four years on the community college campus, thereby saving a year of university tuition and living costs as a result of leaving home.
Board member Tom Loeffler urged the board to set up a committee to work with the Rim Country Educational Alliance, which is working to recruit a university to build a campus and various spin-off facilities on a total of some 400 acres fronting Tyler Parkway on the boundary between Payson and Star Valley.
Loeffler noted that the Alliance was considering abandoning its three-year effort to strike a deal with ASU and instead approach other universities.
He noted that the City of Mesa had just announced plans to bring a second, small, four-year university to the city, after it had abandoned long, fruitless negotiations with ASU about opening a branch campus there.
“So we know the concept is alive and well in Arizona,” said Loeffler.
He added that the Alliance “will apparently be approaching more than ASU. So we know that it is still a viable concept that the (Alliance) board is working on very diligently.”
“We are hopeful there will be a four-year campus here, whoever that might be,” said Stephenson.
The board directed Loeffler to continue working on establishing some sort of a committee that could get involved in the Alliance’s planning effort, to ensure whichever university the Alliance recruits will dovetail with GCC’s offerings.
The GCC campus currently occupies about five acres fronting on Highway 260 and Mud Springs Road. The campus has another 25 acres for future expansion, which sits right next to the land on which the Alliance plans to build the first phase of the college campus.
In addition, the Alliance hopes to also strike deals with various spin-off facilities, like a research park and a incubator center, to turn faculty ideas into commercial products. In theory, GCC could develop workforce development programs that would dovetail with those new businesses.