State Budget Woes Could Prevent Arizona From Offering Free Community College

By Alexandra Olgin
Published: Monday, January 12, 2015 - 5:05am
Updated: Monday, January 12, 2015 - 9:37am

President Barack Obama announced a plan called America’s College Promise Friday in Tennessee. The proposal would offer eligible students two years of community college for free.

Arizona has 21 community colleges and about half a million students. The Maricopa County Community College District is the biggest in the state and one of the largest in the nation, enrolling half of all community college students in Arizona.

State Senator Carlyle Begay is on the legislative education committee.

“The biggest obstacle will obviously be the budgetary restraints that it would place on the state," Begay said. "We’re coming off the heels of reducing funding for community colleges by over over 50 percent.”

The proposal is for students who maintain a 2.5 grade point average and make progress toward graduating. The federal government would cover three quarters of their tuition, and the states would pay for remaining 25 percent.

But since Arizona already owes the K-12 public schools more than $300 million, the state may not have the funds.

MCCCD Chancellor Rufus Glasper said this proposal would improve access for potential students, but with that, he expects a surge in students looking to take advantage of the free education.

“We could handle the additional growth but we would have to look at how we could sustain and maintain the additional funding that would be required if the numbers continue to grow,” Glasper said.

After early number crunching, Glasper said this district would need about $37 million this year in state funding to accommodate the current 60,000 eligible students already enrolled.

Obama has unsuccessfully pitched other plans to fund community colleges in the past. This proposal still has to get through the Republican-controlled Congress, which could be challenging.

KJZZ is licensed to Rio Salado College, which is part of the Maricopa County Community College District.

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