Eastern Arizona College's Keith Alexander speaks before Senate Education Committee on HB 2790.

PHOENIX – Students hoping to get a four-year degree will still have to rely on Arizona’s universities for the time being.

Last week the Arizona State Senate Education Committee rejected House Bill 2790, which would have allowed community colleges to offer four-year degrees.

“I’m just really disappointed because I feel that there is a need for this, especially in rural Arizona,” Committee Chairman Sylvia Allen said following the bill’s failure.

For administrators in Greenlee County staring down the coming year’s budget however, the news will come as a welcome relief.

During a meeting of the Greenlee County Board of Supervisors County Administrator Derek Rapier brought up concerns the county had with the potential of the bill had it passed.

The main concern was with an out-of-county tuition subsidy that could have seen unchecked growth if HB 2790 had passed. Without any caps on tuition, there was no clear picture how much the county could have potentially been on the hook for with its current 110 students.

“The concept sounds good, but what will it cost us?” Rapier said last Wednesday. He noted that while it was a potential financial boon for neighboring Graham and Cochise counties, Greenlee stood to benefit little from the arrangement.

Rapier said the college had asked the county not to interfere with the bill in exchange for a promised amendment with regards to tuition caps.

“Frankly it’s not a promise they can keep,” Rapier said and lamented that Eastern Arizona College’s Keith Alexander had not discussed the matter at greater length with the county.

Alexander testified before the Senate Education last week in Phoenix.

“A couple of days ago we looked at the Freeport McMoran job site and there were 189 jobs that were available, but unfilled in Greenlee and Graham County,” Alexander said. “The majority of those requiring bachelor’s degrees and there aren’t people there to fill them.”

He remarked it was his second time bringing this bill before the senate and that similar bills already existed in 25 other states.

“We used to consider ourselves the cutting edge community college in Arizona, and now on some of these newer innovations we’re not doing them as rapidly as other people. They’re educating their students and keeping them local, and we’re sending them, in a lot of cases, out of state,” he said.

While many graduates of state universities do tend to stay within Arizona, data provided by the Arizona Board of Regents found that since the recession fewer high school graduates are going on to higher education. In addition to that, the state’s attainment rate for four year degrees is half of the national rate, a number that won’t be helped by HB 2790’s failure.

“HB 2790 is about helping people further their education who may not otherwise have the opportunity or financial ability to do so. It’s about giving community colleges the ability to offer four year baccalaureates if they want to,” bill sponsor and LD-14 Representative Becky Nutt told the senate committee.

“It’s up to the individual colleges and their community. We are simply allowing them the choice.”

The bill was discussed for nearly two hours in committee last week before failing 6-3.

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