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pacing the void

By Joseph Altman Jr.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 25, 1997

Regents opposed to 4-year degrees at community colleges

A bill that would allow community colleges to offer four-year degree programs is charging through the state Senate despite concerns by the Arizona Board of Regents that it may infringe on the regents' authority to govern the university system.

Senate Bill 1109 would delete provisions in Arizona law that limit community colleges to providing only two-year programs. That would allow community colleges to offer upper-division courses and award bachelor's degrees.

The bill passed through the Senate education, appropriations and rules committees, and the Senate's committee of the whole recommended Thursday that the bill pass, said Sen. Carol Springer, R-Prescott, one of the bill's primary sponsors. The bill must now go before the full Senate for a vote before it is handed over to the House.

Krista Neis, assistant to the chancellor for community relations at Pima Community College, said Pima has no plans to offer four-year programs if the bill becomes law.

"There's not a lack of opportunity for students in Tucson to take advantage of excellent university opportunities," Neis said. She said Pima students often transfer to the University of Arizona to complete their degrees, and of Pima's 26,000 students enrolled each semester, 2,400 concurrently take classes at the UA.

Rick Kroc, director of the UA student research office, said about 700 Pima students transfer to the UA each fall, and of all undergraduate degrees awarded by the UA, 10 percent to 15 percent are granted to transfer students from Pima.

Springer said the bill is geared toward rural community colleges whose students cannot travel to attend classes at one of the three state universities.

However, the board of regents voted to oppose the bill at its Feb. 13 meeting. Many of the regents said it is an attempt by the Legislature to increase its control over the university system.

Regent Eddie Basha called the legislation "micromanagement" and said the bill would create a great injustice to the students in Arizona's university system.

Allowing community colleges to issue four-year degrees would demean the quality of existing programs, Student Regent Jonathan Schmitt said last week.

"There are just a lot of questions and it seems to me that we already have in place with NAU formal partner agreements with rural community colleges," Schmitt said.

In the Northern Arizona University program, professors from the university teach upper-division classes at the community colleges, allowing students to receive an NAU degree without ever setting foot on the campus. The bill, however, would give community colleges the ability to pursue their own degree programs without assistance from the three state universities, Schmitt said.

A majority of the regents said they would oppose any changes to the current "two plus two" program, which allows students to continue their education by transferring community college credits to one of the state's four-year institutions.

"The two plus two program has good accessibility," Basha said at the board's meeting. "Any change is not good."

But Springer said the bill was introduced in response to demand for better access to higher education in rural areas.

"I think the regents frankly overreacted," Springer said. "We have clarified it (the bill) to make sure they now understand it."

Amendments added to the bill state that community colleges could not offer degrees already offered by one of the three state universities. They also state that approval for a degree program must be agreed upon by the universities, the board of regents and the state Board of Directors for Community Colleges.

Basha, however, said the bill is still bad legislation and the regents must oppose it.

Regents President John Munger said at the board's meeting, "We don't need to create a third tier in this state between the community colleges and the universities."

Schmitt said last week that it would be more efficient for legislators to have higher education issues put on the regents' agenda so the issues can receive proper review.

"I would hope that they do (heed the board's opposition), especially since the board has been given constitutional authority over the university system," he said.

But Basha said he did not believe the Legislature would take the regents' position under careful consideration.

"They (legislators) have little regard for most people," he said. "But I hope and pray that sound heads prevail and those bills that have a foundation in micromanagement are either defeated in the Legislature or vetoed by the governor."

Springer, when asked if legislation like the community colleges bill was a form of micromanagement, said the Legislature is only doing what the regents have failed to do.

"The point is that they (the regents) are not meeting the demand," Springer said. "They could preclude community colleges from doing it (offering degree programs) if they want to do it themselves.

"The regents are saying, 'We don't want to do it but we don't want you to do it either,'" she said. "We're just trying to get community colleges and universities to work together."

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