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Arizona community colleges may now offer four-year degrees under new law

ASU President Michael Crow said he looks forward to partnering with community colleges to provide more Arizona students access to higher education

Scholarship Recipients

ASU biochemistry junior Meilin Zhu and biochemistry and biological sciences junior Humza Zubair write on a whiteboard at the Biodesign Institute in Tempe on Thursday, April 18, 2018.  

Arizona community colleges will now be able to offer four-year degrees under a bill signed by Gov. Doug Ducey Tuesday, legislation that ASU President Michael Crow said will have "no impact on ASU."

Senate Bill 1453 allows community colleges to implement four-year degree programs as long as each program meets workforce needs, demonstrates student demand and avoids duplication of degree programs at other Arizona schools.

During the first four years of offering four-year bachelor’s degrees, community colleges can not have their programs make up more than 5% of their degree and certification offerings. After four years, bachelor’s degrees will be allowed to make up no more than 10% of degree and certificate offerings.

"This is 'Opportunity for All' in action," Ducey said in a tweet Tuesday. "It will allow students even more opportunities as they strengthen their education and expand their employment opportunities."

In a meeting with The State Press Wednesday, Crow expressed excitement for the bill and the education opportunities it will create throughout the state. 

"Our workforce is underprepared in general for competition," Crow said. "More avenues to get hired, higher degrees, more pathways more ways to do it, that's all positive and all good. So we're looking to work with everyone we possibly can."

Of the 4,508 students who transferred to ASU in Fall 2020, 2,863 of them came from Arizona community colleges, according to data from ASU.

The Arizona Board of Regents, the body that oversees Arizona’s public universities, expressed its disapproval of the bill in March.

"We don’t need more capacity, we need more students to come through the existing pathways that are already there," ABOR executive director John Arnold said at a hearing before the House Education Committee, the Arizona Republic reported

In a letter to Ducey dated May 3, ABOR chair Larry Penley urged the governor not to sign the bill, arguing the higher education system in Arizona is working as is.

"There is little evidence to support the need for a substantial change in Arizona’s higher education structure," Penley wrote in the letter. "Arizona has thoughtfully resisted the approach of Colorado and some other states with multiple higher education boards, an overall coordinating board and a variety of small, state colleges that have relatively low retention and graduation rates."

Penley and Arnold argued that ABOR and Arizona universities already collaborate with community colleges in Apache, Graham, Maricopa, Mojave, Yavapai and Yuma counties to assist students in obtaining four-year degrees through transfer programs.

ASU partners with several Arizona community colleges through the MyPath2ASU program to help students complete their bachelor's degree through ASU without leaving their community college.

Undergraduate students using the MyPath2ASU program can expect a base tuition cost of $6,426 for the 2021-22 school year, while Arizona students at Maricopa Community Colleges can expect to pay $2,040 per year.

Even with the bill's signing, Pima Community College and Yavapai College don't plan on implementing four-year programs right away. 

Yavapai College President Lisa Rhine said in a statement the school will continue to work with ASU and other Arizona universities to offer more opportunities to students even if four-year programs are developed.

PCC Vice Chancellor for External Relations Lisa Brosky said in a statement the school "does not plan to begin offering four-year degrees, although that could conceivably change at some point in the future."

Other Arizona community colleges are celebrating the passage of the bill and are ready to plan for four-year programs. Interim Chancellor of the Maricopa County Community College District Steven Gonzales released a statement thanking Ducey for signing SB 1453.

"Our Governing Board, College Presidents, faculty, and students applaud enhancing access and affordability to higher education," Gonzales wrote. "SB1453 will provide a better pathway for future college students in our state and region."

SB 1453 will take effect 90 days after the state legislature adjourns. In the meantime, community colleges in Maricopa will begin identifying programs to advance for consideration as four-year programs, Gonzales said in a statement Monday.

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Reagan PriestManaging Editor

Reagan Priest is a managing editor, overseeing and working with the six digital desks at The State Press. She previously worked as a social justice reporter for Cronkite News and as a digital production intern at The Arizona Republic.

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