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Ducey Signs Bill Allowing Arizona Community Colleges To Offer 4-Year Degrees

Gov. Doug Ducey has signed a bill that will allow Arizona community colleges to offer four-year degree programs normally only offered at the university level. This makes Arizona the 24th state to do so, according to the  Education Commission of the States

“Arizona is a school choice state, and today’s action is school choice for higher education. This is ‘Opportunity for All’ in action," Ducey said in a Tuesday statement. "It will allow students even more opportunities as they strengthen their education and expand their employment opportunities. 

The bill's sponsors, Sen. Paul Boyer and Rep. Becky Nutt, say this will help the state meet the workforce demands and is a "step further in meeting the needs of adult students."

Hear Sen. Paul Boyer's Interview With Host Steve Goldstein On The Show

AZ Community Colleges Can Now Offer 4-Year Degrees

The governor's action comes despite a last-ditch bid by Larry Penley, chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, urging him to reject the legislation and keep the schools in their traditional roles including technical certificates, two-year degrees and feeding students into the state's three universities.

"There is little evidence to support the need for a substantial change in Arizona higher education structure,'' Penley wrote to the governor in a letter.

Penley also argued that the move is unnecessary, as the regents have four-year programs they operate in collaboration with community colleges in Apache, Graham, Maricopa, Mohave, Yavapai and Yuma counties.

What's Next

The legislation was a big win for the Maricopa County Community College District, one of the nation’s largest community college systems. The district has been pushing for this for at least 25 years. Now that this bill is signed, the district’s Chancellor Steven Gonzales said the next steps are to identify what four-year programs it should offer, develop curriculum and seek accreditation. 

“I feel like we are going to get this one opportunity to get it right and roll it out with the high quality that we promised and we plan that by the fall of 2023 Maricopa could see it’s first degrees being offered," he said. 

Some of the programs the district is considering include information technology, nursing, fire science and education, Gonzales said. 

Other community college systems outside of Maricopa County are also looking forward to offering bachelor's degrees soon. 

“Enabling Arizona’s community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees will be very beneficial to San Carlos Apache College students by increasing the amount and diversity of choices available to them locally and throughout the State, if not the country, for pursuing their baccalaureate and higher-level degrees,” said San Carlos Apache Tribe Chairman Terry Rambler. 

The legislation also allows community college to charge up 150% of its current tuition rate for the third and fourth years of a baccalaureate program. MCCCD has not decided yet if it will charge more for its four-year degree programs than it does for its two-year programs. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: KJZZ is licensed to the Maricopa County Community College District. 

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Rocio Hernandez was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2020 to 2022.