Gov. Ducey signs bill allowing community colleges to offer 4-year degrees

Governor Doug Ducey on Tuesday signed a bill allowing Arizona community colleges to offer four-year degrees.

Senate Bill 1453 aligns Arizona with 23 other states that allow community colleges to offer four-year degrees in limited circumstances, Ducey's office said in a news release on May 4.

Under the new law, colleges offering the degrees must approve programs based on specific criteria, including:

  • Workforce need
  • A financial and administrative analysis of offering the degree program
  • Avoiding duplicate programs

It will take effect this fall and requires detailed internal and external processes, including becoming nationally accredited.

The Maricopa Community Colleges plan to begin enrolling students in their baccalaureate degree programs as early as fall 2023.

The bill "is an important and timely shift to reskill and upskill Arizona’s workforce to meet the needs of the growing economy and provide a pathway to economic prosperity for more Arizonans," read a statement from the governor's office.

Before this legislation, the community colleges have only offered two-year degree programs and professional certifications.

Students at Gateway Community College have had positive reactions about the new law, as new students will be able to get a four-year degree without losing credits by transferring to a university.

For Kendra Jimenez, a second-year student at Gateway, the news is exciting.

"Now that students don't have to go to a whole different college -- we get to know the staff and location, and it feels a little more like home," Jimenez said.

Doctor Steven Gonzalez with the Maricopa Community College District says this is historical for the state by giving students access to high quality education and low-cost degrees.

"This is about equity and access, two things community colleges are already known for," Gonzalez said. "More students of color start at community colleges than anywhere else in higher education, so these students will sometimes transfer, sometimes decide not to, sometimes going directly into the workforce -- and the beautiful thing about this is they're often in the backyard of a student's neighborhood, so they don't have to walk drive bike to get to a campus. 

Critics have argued for years about the cost for residents to get four-year degrees at Arizona’s three public universities.

The average in-state tuition at Arizona State University is between $9,000 and $12,000.

At Maricopa County Community College, tuition for the first two years is capped at $1,020 a semester for 15 credit hours.

The bill allows for a tuition increase of 150% for the last two years or a little more than $3,000 a semester.

For $85 a credit, Stacey Martinez will be graduating from Gateway Community College with an associate's degree in respiratory care. If she was to continue her education for a Bachelor's Degree, that's just over $10,000.

That's significantly less than state colleges.

"All in Education," an education advocacy group, says this paves a pathway that didn't exist for many people.

"It's giving an opportunity to all people. It's big news for people and our community. It's giving us those tools we need at every level. Everyone that can go to community college can now have the same skills like people who are going to universities," the group said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Read the full news release here.

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