It pays for Arizona to invest in community colleges

With nearly 300,000 students, Arizona’s community colleges are the backbone of our higher educational system, driving the state’s economic engine and delivering an educated citizenry to meet the most in-demand jobs of today and the complexities of tomorrow.

Their financial impact is staggering, with graduates earning $11 billion in increased wages over their working lives, equating to 5.6 percent of the total gross state product. With these colleges woven into the fabric of Arizona’s economy, it is understandable why the state takes a vested interest in their success with state funding.

As the Presidents and Chancellors of the state’s 10 community college districts, we applaud the plans by Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature to fully fund the STEM workforce development formula for Maricopa, Pima, and Central Arizona College as well as to our eight rural colleges. We rallied in solidarity at the Capitol on Feb. 19 to thank our elected officials for their proposals and showcase our impact across Arizona.

Over the past two years, we supported the 2020 plan for K-12, which reaches maturity this year. We also recognize that most employers demand more than a high school diploma. The jobs of the future demand a highly educated and skilled workforce – one produced by Arizona’s community colleges.

Historical reductions in state funding have placed enormous strain on our resources. We need funding – and not just a one-time injection – but an ongoing, consistent supply to keep up with the ever-changing workforce needs of our growing economy.

Funding History
Currently, Arizona community colleges are funded at $116.6 million below the state’s fiscal year 2008 appropriation. From 2008-2019, funding for rural colleges decreased 62 percent ($42 million to $16.6 million). In 2016, funding for Pima and Maricopa Community Colleges, Arizona’s most significant source of workforce training programs, was eliminated entirely.

In 2019, however, the Legislature authorized a one-time funding of $14.2 million to Arizona’s rural community colleges for workforce programs. Additionally, the Legislature appropriated $5.8 million for Maricopa Community College’s Specialty Nursing and Expanded Programs and $15 million to Pima Community College’s Aviation Program.

The Great Recession is over; the state’s economy is strong. We have capacity and need to flex our financial muscles and invest in workforce development at community colleges, which is, admittedly, a more costly line item, but it is also a critical one to deliver career-ready students.

Preparing for Careers of the Future
We have a keen pulse on the evolving labor market and here’s what we know. Two out of every three jobs in Arizona now require additional training beyond high school and 470,000 baby boomers in Arizona are retiring in the next 10 years. Additionally, Arizona has set a 60% postsecondary attainment goal, meaning 1,000,000 more Arizonans need to earn credentials and degrees by 2030.

To meet these emerging workforce needs, Arizona’s community colleges have begun applying their one-time 2019/20 appropriation funding in the following ways:

Coconino Community College, a rural community college that serves 18,600 square miles in Coconino County, focused on stated community needs with the funding and created three new programs: Cyber Security, Marine Maintenance and Veterinary Technician. All the new programs will address workforce and economic development needs, and leadership is working diligently to make an Automotive Technician program a reality.

With nurses retiring and the average RN turnover rate of 15 percent, Arizona is facing a nursing shortage crisis with nearly 21,000 new openings for specialty nurses by 2025. Remedy? The Maricopa Community Colleges is creating a state-of-the-art nursing program in Arizona. The funding will cover program development, equipment, and facility expansion at Gateway and Paradise Valley Community Colleges.

Pima Community College is expanding its Aviation Technology Center for more classrooms, labs, and a second commercial jet hangar, helping create 450-plus jobs with a total economic impact of $225.5 million over the next five years. The program provides skilled workers for high-wage jobs in a growing sector of the state’s economy.

These examples highlight the transformative work that community colleges can accomplish with funding. But there’s still more to be done.

Preparing for Arizona’s Future
Gov. Ducey once said that “Education and the economy go hand-in-hand.” We couldn’t agree more. Our state’s successful economic trajectory is promising so long as our educational system is consistently funded, specifically to the rural colleges and a full restoration of STEM and Workforce Program funding to Maricopa, Pima, and Central Arizona College.

From Flagstaff to Yuma, Kingman to Thatcher, and everywhere in between, we are committed to keeping costs affordable and education accessible to the numerous students that need us.

The sustained funding proposed in the 2021 legislative budget positions us to play our part in Arizona’s bright future, preparing learners of all ages for in-demand careers. We look forward to the continued collaboration with the legislators and Gov. Ducey as they Fund What Works.

We are The Arizona Community Colleges. We are Arizona.

 Dr. Daniel P. Corr, President
 Arizona Western College
 Dr. Jackie Elliott, President
 Central Arizona College
 Dr. J.D. Rottweiler, President
 Cochise College
 Dr. Colleen Smith, President
 Coconino Community College
 Mr. Todd Haynie, President
 Eastern Arizona College
 Dr. Steven Gonzales, Interim Chancellor
 Maricopa Community Colleges
 Dr. Stacy Klippenstein, President
 Mohave Community College
 Mr. Mark Vest, President
 Northland Pioneer College
 Mr. Lee Lambert, J. D., Chancellor
 Pima Community College
 Dr. Lisa Rhine, President
 Yavapai College