Gila Community College continues to flop about on the deck of indecision.
And that’s too bad, because the district remains one of the most important entities in Rim Country, when it comes to this region’s future.
The board has flipped on one side then flopped on the other when it comes to setting tuition rates — going from highest to lowest, and now perhaps heading back up the scale again.
This time, the urge to boost tuition apparently comes from Eastern Arizona College in Safford, which just raised its rates.
EAC provides accreditation and effectively manages the budget for GCC, which is one of the state’s two provisional college districts.
Turns out, GCC’s contract with EAC apparently requires the two college districts to have matching tuition — with EAC’s board in the driver’s seat.
Of course, the GCC board apparently didn’t know about that clause as it first raised, then lowered tuition in the last three years.
First the board raised tuition sharply and eliminated the long-standing waiver for senior citizens. The enrollment dropped sharply, which may have reflected both a shrinking local population and the impact of the tuition increase.
After two years of white knuckling the alarming enrollment decline, the board reversed itself and slashed tuition and restored free tuition for seniors. The haphazard approach to tuition setting so frustrated board member Tom Loeffler that he resigned, leaving a vacancy that’s still not filled.
Enrollment rebounded, especially among seniors and high school students taking dual enrollment courses.
Despite the lack of state support that makes the free tuition for seniors risky, the district seemingly has remained in the black despite the tuition decreases — thanks to a surge in enrollment.
But now GCC may have to boost tuition rates again to satisfy EAC — its distant overlord.
All very discouraging, despite the newfound spirit of cooperation on the GCC board with the genial, common sense approach of newly elected Sam Morehead to the crucial swing seat that holds the balance of power between north and south.
GCC remains a key element in the region’s educational system, with a vital role to play when the Rim Country Educational Alliance finally strikes a deal with a four-year university.
GCC has already developed successful vocational training programs in nursing and fire sciences and provided advanced high school students with a low-cost way to get started on a college degree, while enriching the lives of many retirees. The number of full-time students has also risen steadily — a heartening trend.
But to fulfill that enormous potential, the GCC board must gain some measure of control in its relationship with EAC — and become full partners in the effort to bring a university to town.
That would be a switch — but then, not all flips are bad.