Gila Community College Moving Towards Independence

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Larry Stephenson President GCC Board

Gila Community College (GCC) plays a unique role in Gila County’s educational system. While there is some anticipation about the possibility of a 4-year college or university in Payson, GCC is real and operating and serving the needs of the Payson area. GCC offers an array of programs, courses, and certificates that meet the needs of its diverse students.

GCC was established by the voters of Gila County as a “provisional” community college district, under the laws of the State of Arizona. As a provisional community college, GCC is required to contract with another community college for accredited programs, courses, and degrees. In 2005 the decision was made to contract with Eastern Arizona College (EAC), Graham County’s community college. As a provisional district, GCC is limited in the type and amount of State funding. For example, GCC does not receive a proportionate share of workforce development funds that derive from a sales tax paid by the citizens of Arizona, including the residents of Gila County. The Governing Board of GCC has been working with the State Legislature to rectify this inequity.

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Recently, the Governing Board of GCC established a goal of seeking its own separate accreditation, a necessary step if GCC is seek independence and recognition as just another of the several fully-recognized community college districts in the state. To accomplish this goal, ideally GCC will have to work closely with EAC to develop and transfer functions and services necessary for accreditation.

In the past there have been obvious tensions in the Governing Board. Over the past year, attempts have been made to affect a better working relationship between Board members. These efforts have begun to pay off. For example, the Board has begun to re-establish policies, beginning with several financial policies. And, the Board is now provided regular financial information regarding the budgets for the Payson Campus and the Gila Pueblo Campus (in Globe).

While there is some concern for declining enrollment at GCC, we continue to serve a vital educational and workforce development role in the Payson area. We are proud that out of our 974 total students, we have 234 students who are carrying a full load of academic credits, a number which has been fairly stable for a few semesters. This year we expect approximately 28 students to graduate with Associate Degrees.

Last year on the Payson Campus of GCC we had eight students who qualified to take the state certification as Basic Emergency Medical Technicians, 46 students who qualified to take the state exam for Certified Nursing Assistant, 3 students who earned a Certificate of Proficiency as a Medical Assistant, 21 students who qualified to become structural firefighters, and 25 students who qualified to become wildland firefighters.

This past year Payson Regional Medical Center hired 10 of the 20 graduates from our Registered Nursing program. The success of these students demonstrates the important role that GCC plays in workforce development for the Payson economy.

GCC could not have educated and trained such successful students without the help of our outstanding Adjunct Faculty. In Payson, we are fortunate to have a wealth of talent to draw upon in the form of highly educated and trained people willing to teach part-time for GCC. These faculty members are integral to the success of GCC, and they teach for us not for the money but rather for the joy of sharing their expertise with our students. We cannot thank them enough.

As one walks around the Payson Campus of GCC you notice how clean and well-maintained the campus is. For this, we have to thank Richard Levesque, our Maintenance Technician. Richard is a tireless worker, who is responsible for both the appearance of the campus as well as proper functioning of the heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical systems. He is always thinking of ways to improve the look of the campus and the functioning of our facilities.

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Gila Community College Payson Campus Dean Pam Butterfield celebrates with nursing studnet Tanya Kay Vernelli at the last graduation, where the college awarded the most degrees ever.

GCC is truly a “community” college and we appreciate the support of the Payson community in helping us achieve our mission. For example, we could not continue to offer our nursing program without both the financial and logistical support offered by Payson Regional Medical Center.

This past year “Friends of Rim Country GCC,” a 401(c)3 non-profit foundation was formed. The primary goal of the foundation is to provide scholarships for GCC Payson Campus students. The Friends are sponsoring their first major fundraiser on April 30th, when the Harlem Ambassadors will appear at the Wilson Dome to play their unique style of basketball against local teams. Tickets are available for $5.00 from either GCC or the Chamber of Commerce. Friends of Rim Country GCC plans to award their first scholarships for the fall 2013 semester.

Based on the 2000 U.S. Census, the 5 districts of the GCC Governing Board were re-districted. Given the greater population growth in the Payson area, the 5 newly-drawn districts may ultimately result in the Payson area having a greater say in the governance of GCC. Persons interested in being elected to a seat on the Governing Board should look at the district boundaries of Districts 2 and 3, for those seats will be on the ballot in 2014.

All of us associated with Gila Community College would like to say “Thank You” to the voters and taxpayers of Gila County. Just over 10 years ago in 2002 they decided to embark on a path for their own community college, a difficult path but one being followed nevertheless. Ideally, this path leads to an autonomous and accredited Gila Community College.

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